Farewell Service and reception for Archbishop Richard Clarke

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photography by Jonathan Hull and Peter Cheney

Day of Prayer for Young People and Youth Ministry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rev Jonathan McFarland appointed Rector of Urney

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

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

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

 

Seamus Mallon: ‘a peacemaker who wanted to build a better future for all’

The Most Revd Dr Richard Clarke, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, has issued the following statement following the death of Seamus Mallon:

“Seamus Mallon was by profession a teacher and then politician, a leader and risk taker. He was an outspoken opponent of violence, who saw a better way of living if the people of this island learned to understand each other better. He was a peacemaker firmly committed to building a better future for all.

“Sympathy and prayers are extended to his family and colleagues at this sad time.”

 

Clergy forgive intruders who desecrated Christ Church Londonderry

Clergy at Christ Church in Londonderry have said they forgive two men who desecrated the church during a break-in over two years ago during which damage estimated at £75,000 was caused.

25-year-old Harry Duffy, from Elmwood Terrace in the city, and James Anthony Kennedy, who is 24, and from Glenside Park, were jailed for two years and eight months. They’ll both serve part of their sentence on licence.

In a statement, the Rector of Christ Church, Archdeacon Robert Miller, and the parish’s Pastoral Director, Rev Katie McAteer, said they forgave the two intruders and thanked the judge for the sensitive way in which he had dealt with “what has, for our parishioners, been a most distressing case”.

Archdeacon Miller and Rev McAteer’s statement in full:

 

“We are thankful that this matter has now been dealt with by the courts and grateful to Judge Philip Babington for the sensitive manner in which he has dealt with what has – for our parishioners – been a most distressing case.

“It is of some comfort to us to learn that, in Judge Babington’s words, there was no ‘religious or sectarian aspect’ to this offending. Indeed, since the break-in, we in Christ Church have been blessed and encouraged by the sympathy and support shown to us by well-wishers from right across the community – most notably by our closest neighbours in St Eugene’s Roman Catholic Cathedral.

“We take no pleasure from the significant custodial sentences handed down to the two offenders. We do feel, however, that actions have consequences and that all of us should be accountable before the law.

“On behalf of the parishioners of Christ Church, we now consider this matter closed. As Rector and as Pastoral Director, we forgive Harry Duffy and James Kennedy for what they did and will be holding them in our prayers. We hope the two men can learn from this incident and that they will succeed in getting their lives back on track.”

 

 

 

Church of Ireland welcomes restoration of NI Executive

The Church of Ireland has issued the following statement on the restoration of the Northern Ireland Executive:

The Church of Ireland welcomes the recent restoration of the Northern Ireland Executive and the commitment expressed to resolve the many difficult issues affecting the community.

As MLAs resume normal business for the first time in three years, we offer them encouragement and the assurance of prayer. We support the ‘New Decade, New Approach’ agreement which, we feel, captures the hopes for a new decade. If the parties to the agreement, including the two governments, live up to its spirit, it could prove transformational.

Responsibility, accountability and a transparent way of doing business are embedded in the new agreement. People are keen to work with their political leaders to turn around the social crisis in Northern Ireland. People want lasting foundations and sustainable progress. People are ambitious in their hopes and – in the best traditions of Northern Ireland – they are generous in offering the political parties the necessary space to make good on the commitments made. But people will expect results.

In recent years, too many have experienced job loss and financial hardship, have suffered because of under-investment in public services, been frightened by the prospect of welfare ‘reform’ and frustrated by the lack of political direction. That needs to change. We welcome the fresh commitment to address the huge problems facing the health, social care and education sectors, and the determination to tackle the crisis in mental health.

Above all, it is important that the restoration of the Executive brings fresh impetus to the task of building a peaceful, just and shared society. As a body composed of people from all parts of the island of Ireland, we reflect the importance of collective responsibility – moving forward together while respecting and recognising different cultural identities. We urge all in leadership to engage with each other with civility and respect. We are committed to engaging in civic dialogue and to supporting the Executive as it recommences its work in any way we can. We continue to uphold in our prayers all those who bear the onerous responsibility of elected office.

ENDS

The statement was approved by the Standing Committee of the General Synod of the Church of Ireland, at its meeting in Dublin on Tuesday, 21st January.

 

Raphoe Installation provides uplifting end to emotional week

A week of vast emotional contrasts for the Diocese of Derry and Raphoe ended on a joyful note late on Sunday afternoon with the installation of Rt Rev Andrew Forster as Bishop of Raphoe at a service in St Eunan’s Cathedral. It took place just over 24 hours after one of the bishop’s predecessors, Rt Rev Dr James Mehaffey, was commended to God at a service in St Columb’s Cathedral in Londonderry.

The relief in Raphoe was almost palpable as parishioners and friends from across the community gathered to celebrate an historic occasion for the diocese. The Republic’s Minister for Education, Joe McHugh, was among those who filled the Cathedral to witness Bishop Forster accepting his mandate and being placed in the Episcopal Seat of the Cathedral Church of Saint Eunan by the Dean of Raphoe, Very Rev Arthur Barrett.

There were representatives present from right across civic life – from an Garda Siochana, education, business, the health sector, community groups, scouting and guiding organisations – as well as from the four main Churches. Also present was the Bishop of Mahajanga in Madagascar, Rt Rev Hall Speers, originally from the Parish of Urney near Strabane, who returns to his diocese in the Indian Ocean on Monday.

In his sermon, Bishop Forster recalled the words of Archbishop Richard Clarke at the Service of Consecration in Armagh Cathedral just over a month ago, when the Primate handed over the pastoral staff – the crozier – of the Diocese: “Keep watch over the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has appointed you shepherd; encourage the faithful; restore the lost; and build up the body of Christ.”

It was, Bishop Forster suggested, a “solemn call to any person, any bishop.” He recalled two men who had held the same office as him previously, one a namesake – Bishop Nicholas Forster – and Dr James Mehaffey.

When the first Bishop Forster died in the middle of the 18th century, he left one thousand guineas to the Diocese – the equivalent of £160,000 nowadays. The current Bishop Forster drew laughter from the congregation when he shared what was written on his predecessor’s gravestone: ‘What he has left let gratitude tell. May his successors imitate him.’ “I would need a substantial pay rise to be able to leave £160,000,” the new Bishop said. “But what an incredible example of a man who sought to care for the flock, to find the lost, and to build up the body of Christ. He was, my namesake, a heart for the poor, a heart for the marginalised and left much behind.”

Bishop James Mehaffey, who died last week, was remembered with great thankfulness and gratitude. “At the heart of Jim’s ministry,” Bishop Forster said, “was a very, very simple truth: people matter. And he saw that as people who perhaps were seen as different from him – people mattered. And what Jim lived out was that as he reached out to those who were seen as ‘other’ and seen as different, that they came to recognise in each other that they were all made in the image of God, with all the dignity and worth and value that that brings. And in the most difficult of days, Bishop Mehaffey was a living example of reconciling love and we can truly say of him, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the sons of God.’”

There were over 200 years between Bishop Forster and Bishop Mehaffey, the new Bishop said, but yet they lived out that call: ‘Keep watch over the flock over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you shepherd; encourage the faithful; restore the lost; and build up the body of Christ’.

“Now, I want to ask this question: why – why did they do it, Nicholas and Jim? What motivates Christians down through the years – and today – to forsake all to follow Christ; to give of themselves and their resources to care for others; to build up the church; to look beyond ourselves; to seek to respond to both the spiritual and physical needs of the world around us. Why? Why do we do such things?”

Bishop Forster said the answers were in the “powerful” and “beautiful” Old Testament and New Testament readings (Isaiah 42: 1-9 and Matthew 3: 13-17). The first forty chapters of Isaiah were pretty hard going, he said – “It’s all about judgement and decline, and the nations suffering – defeated by their enemies – all seemed bleak, all seemed bleak and dark and black but, as one writer puts it, ‘When the outlook is bleak, try the uplook.’”

Bishop Forster said chapter 42 in Isaiah was a turning point, because it was about God’s promise of hope. “Maybe some of you this evening need to hear God’s promise of hope. If all seems bleak to you, if the outlook seems bleak, try the uplook, because the beautiful words of Isaiah that prophesy of the Messiah Jesus, as God the Father says to you: ‘Here is my servant,’ and we call him Jesus. In a world where so many seem to be at breaking point, for those who feel broken by circumstances beyond their control, or by events in their lives that have taken a terrible toll, this tender-hearted God says to you, and says to the world around us, ‘A bruised reed he will not break.’

“Do you know, a bruised reed in many ways seems valueless, doesn’t it? But we’re told that this God – even something that seems valueless – he will not break. You know there’s so much in our world today that makes people feel they lack value, that they’re not important, that they’re not special. A bruised reed he will not break.

“He’s a tender-hearted God. And if you feel that the lights are going out, that all seems dark, that life has snuffed out some of the light that was there before, this tender-hearted God says to us in Isaiah, ‘A smouldering wick I will not snuff out.’ And that is tender-hearted love to a broken world, to broken lives.”

Bishop Forster turned next to the New Testament reading, a few hundred years after Isaiah, in which we find Jesus – the servant prophesied by the prophet – by the Jordan, such a significant river to the people of God. “It was the river that they crossed that signified the end of their wandering into the place of God’s promise; it was to that river that John the Baptist would go and minister, signifying a turning from one life through repentance to the beginning of another life lived through faith.

“And it’s a river for us that can be a metaphor, can’t it, of putting behind both lostness and wandering, our own exodus away from God, to that point of crossing over to a place of forgiveness and faith and acceptance? And where do we find Jesus? At the river Jordan.

“And there’s a strange little twist in this story because Jesus asks John to baptise him. Now, John’s baptism was for sinners and Christ was sinless but yet Jesus insists that John baptises him. Why does he do that? Why does that happen? Well, gathered around the Jordan that day were the broken, the bruised, the sinner, the hurt and the hurting, the hopeless and those longing for change in their lives. Gathered around the Jordan that day were the bruised reeds, the smouldering wicks, and Jesus is in the middle of it all – right there – identifying with them in their needs, knowing that with them there was this deep search for God, and Jesus stands amongst them. And God says – the Father says – ‘This is my servant. This is my son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’

“What motivated men like Bishop Nicholas Forster and Bishop Jim Mehaffey?” he asked. “What motivates God’s people down through the years to reach out to those in spiritual and physical need? You see, I’m asking the wrong question. It’s not about what motivates them; it’s who motivates them? And the answer is Jesus.

Bishop Andrew said being a follower of Jesus was the most wonderful thing in the world. “It’s because of Jesus, it’s because of Him, that I pledge to you that my heart’s desire to serve you is as someone who will keep watch over a flock ‘which the Holy Spirit has appointed you shepherd’; that I will encourage the faithful; restore the lost; and build up the body of Christ.

“Why? Because of Him. Because of Jesus. Because I know of no one else who can heal broken hearts; no one else who can put the shattered pieces of people’s lives back together; no one else who can bring hope, who can bring courage, who can bring faith and life; no one can do it like Jesus.

“Today,” Bishop Forster said, “I proclaim Him to you because that’s all I can do, that’s all I can do as your bishop, and what we do together is proclaim and share the love of Christ. And we do it together, together as the family of God, together in this Diocese, and we do it together because of Him. His love motivates. His love empowers. His love blesses. His love leads us all. His love changes things. His love brings hope. His love brings peace. And it’s in His name that I seek to serve you.”

After the service, members of the congregation made their way to the parish hall for a rather splendid tea and for speeches by Dean Barrett, Minister McHugh, Rev Colin McKibbin from the Presbyterian Church and Rev Richard Johnston from the Methodist Church. Bishop Alan McGuckian was unable to attend but was represented by the Paarish Priest of Raphoe, Fr Eamonn Kelly.

In the final speech, Bishop Forster encouraged people to pray for political representatives north and south as they sought to build up communities and build up our common life. He urged people not to be too hard on politicians and he led those present in a prayer for members of the Dáil and of the newly-restored Northern Ireland Assembly.

 

‘You’re in our prayers. But you’re also in our joy’ – address by Lord Eames at Funeral of Bishop James Mehaffey

On the afternoon of the 7th of September in 1980, Bishop James Mehaffey heard these words: ‘Hold up the weak, heal the sick, bind up the broken, bring again the outcasts, seek the lost.’ It was the occasion of his Service of Consecration as a Bishop. And as he knelt at that turning point in his life and his experience, those were the words of commission held out to any of us who were called to be a bishop.

And I cannot help but feel this afternoon, as we meet with his loved ones to pay our own individual tribute to a remarkable servant of God and His church, that those words are a starting point for our recollection of a wonderful man: ‘Hold up the weak, heal the sick, bind up the broken, bring again the outcasts, seek the lost.’

Those were the hallmarks which began back in 1954 in East Belfast when the young Curate, James Mehaffey, began his ministry in St Patrick’s, Ballymacarrett. His Rector then was to become his bishop and mine in later years, the late George Quin. And from that experience which took him to England and the Diocese of Southwark, James was to work in Down Cathedral in Downpatrick, to move to St Christopher’s in East Belfast, and then to – as we’ve been reminded – Kilkeel. From there, in 1966, his pilgrimage took him back to East Belfast, and the Parish of St Finian’s. I was the neighbouring Rector in Gilnahirk, and the friendship that we were to enjoy to the end of his life was fostered.

For many of the problems in the parochial ministry in that place and in that time were common to both of us and I began to understand the gifts that God was using in Jim’s life.

During the period in Down and Dromore, he became the first Diocesan Missioner in the Church of Ireland – a task which, like many new tasks in the Church and elsewhere – it’s very much up to the person involved to decide the agenda and decide the programme, and those of us who knew him well know that it wasn’t without some unease that he undertook that task for Bishop Quin. For the work was to reach out not only to the parishes but to the clergy and it gave him the opportunity which then – how times have changed – which then were opportunities to renew their own experience that perhaps for many of them had ceased at ordination.

As Diocesan Missioner, Jim Mehaffey gave all of us in the parochial ministry much to think about. And the next step in which he and I were associated was to bring even to another level his thinking, his thought and his philosophy, for the Church of Ireland in its wisdom decided the Almighty was calling it to set up a Priorities Committee – a Priorities Committee – which was eventually to produce a report on the future of the Church of Ireland called ‘First of All’.

As time has passed, and our friends the political representatives present this afternoon will perhaps understand what I mean when I say ‘First of All’ as a priority has its own message. In that work, Jim developed that which he had gained in the parishes but chiefly his work as a missioner. Often I can still hear his voice at those meetings of our Priorities Committee saying, ‘Hold on, hold on. You’ve lost sight of why we’re here.’ You’ve lost sight of why we’re here.

If there is a hallmark as he moved to this city to be your Bishop, if there is a hallmark that I would have as part of his legacy, it is those words: ‘Hold on, you’ve lost sight of why we’re here.’ You’ve lost sight that the reconciliation in our community which was so fostered by Edward Daly and James Mehaffey must never be lost sight of. You’ve lost sight of the wonderful rewards of reconciliation or in reaching out hands of friendship. And within the Church, you’ve lost sight at times of your roots – the roots that have given you the commission of God to be alive for all sorts and conditions of people.

For Bishop Jim, this was his priority as he worked with Edward and other leaders to bind up the broken, to heal the wounds of the lost, to make people remember why you’re here, that in the short gift of a lifespan you must grasp every opportunity to do things for the good of all – across the barriers, across the river and across the divisions.

This was his ministry as a Bishop. It was a ministry exercised in those dark days of suffering, misunderstanding, suspicion, and it was a ministry which was being true to the commission given to him in September 1980: ‘Hold up the weak, heal the sick, bind up the broken, bring again the outcasts, seek the lost.’

James and I often talked in private of our respective work and I’ve no doubt in my mind that the God who called him to be a bishop allowed the gifts that he had cultured at another level to be given an expression through his bishopric. And if Thelma will forgive me, I can divulge one sentence which will long remain part of James’s legacy for me. We were talking about the role of the Church in those dreadful days. We were talking about how often we could be misunderstood by saying the wrong word and even the wrong emphasis in public. He spoke of his experience here and I spoke of my memories of this place. And I said to him, “James, what are you learning about what those people need and want?” He thought for a moment and then in that quizzical voice that you all loved so much, he said to me, “Robin, it’s the calling to ask why we’re here and what’s the reason?” ‘To hold up the weak, to heal the sick, to bind up the broken, to bring again the outcasts and to seek the lost.’

Thelma, the strength that you gave all those years to your beloved Jim was something that he actually often talked about. You wouldn’t know that, but when he and I and several of our colleagues would talk about the pressures on family life of what we were called to do, the one common denominator for Jim Mehaffey was “Thank God for my family and thank God for Thelma.” What a tribute. What a binding of your years together.

And at this moment when our love and sympathy reach out to you, to Wendy – what a tribute you’ve paid him – to Tim, to Julia, to Ellen, to Catherine, to Tom and to Rosie, at this moment you’re in our prayers. But you’re also in our joy – in our joy! – for the commissioning that Jim received back in 1980 was lived out and achieved in his work and you gave him the strength to do it.

The prayer that I have quoted from his consecration didn’t end which those words that I’ve been giving. But they ended with words which bring you and your family and all of us right up to date at this moment. For the prayer and commission ends with these words: ‘Do all this that when the chief shepherd shall appear, you may receive the never fading crown of glory.’

I have no doubt that as we reflect on it all, Jim has had that greeting, ‘Well done thou good and faithful servant. Enter into my kingdom.’

On behalf of a very wide circle, may I express to you our love and our sympathy, and may I on behalf of that circle say, “Thank God”, for Jim Mehaffey bound up those wounds and gave the leadership his Church needed and for which we thank God.