‘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.

 

 

Moving tribute to a “beautiful dad” from late Bishop’s daughter

The late Bishop James Mehaffey’s daughter, Wendy Gledhill, paid an emotional tribute to her “beautiful dad” during Saturday’s Service of Thanksgiving for his life at St Columb’s Cathedral.

“I wish to take this opportunity to say a few words on behalf of the family.

“If Dad were speaking to you now he would begin by acknowledging that you have all come from different places, perhaps covered some distance, of different faiths and from different communities. He would welcome you with that great smile that we all know and love. Dad’s joy when with people never ceased and I consider he received great fulfilment in the company of others and this sustained him.  The common thread that connects us all together today is to give thanks for the life and ministry of Dad and we as a family thank you for sharing this with us.

“He was, of course, a very much loved husband to Thelma, a grandpa, brother, uncle and much more, and I wish to share more about Dad’s life and his journey to this place.

“Dad was born in the Drumnakelly area, just outside of Portadown, the first child of three children. He lived with his family and paternal grandparents in the countryside. Education and learning was a lifelong pursuit for Dad which he began in a small country primary school before moving onto Portadown College aged 11. There he excelled both academically and in sports, with rugby becoming a passion that endured throughout his life. He even had a trial for the under 17s Ulster Rugby Team: what a different life he might have led had he been selected!

“Dad was an industrious student and was popular with his peers. He was initially considering a future in teaching; however, in his late teens he felt called to serve in the ministry, and this became his destiny. The path was set, and he studied at Trinity College Dublin from 1948 until 1954. He applied himself to his studies with hard work, diligence and ability. It was through Scripture Union at Trinity that he met Mum in 1953, and thus began the powerful union that led to marriage in 1956.

“Those who have been to the house will have seen the beautiful photographs of their wedding. One cannot fail to note their joy and love for one another, which remained strong and evident throughout the 63 and a half years! This is some achievement and we as a family give thanks for that. Mum and Dad were devoted to one another, and would affirm that openly and clearly. This strong, loving relationship has been the bedrock for Dad, with Mum supporting and working alongside him. They were a dynamic duo which many of you have reflected to us in recent days. This partnership allowed Dad to become the person he was and to achieve so much in his life.

“Married life began in London and Philip was born there. Frugality was the order of the day and necessitated the selling of the motorbike, in favour of the washing machine – one being better suited for a growing family. They returned to Ireland where I was born and we moved to Downpatrick. We then moved to Belfast and Tim arrived to complete the family. Kilkeel was our next destination and bore many childhood memories. From there we returned to Belfast and it was here that we settled. Dad returned to the rugby pitch and played for Ballynahinch until he was 49 years of age. We all remember watching him preach his sermons with the previous day’s injuries ever present, not least his defining nose! He went to the gym and was keen to maintain his fitness, a habit he continued until his early 80s. It was from Belfast that as a family we would embark on our continental holidays, notably adventurous for the 1960s, as we would drive from Belfast through Scotland, England and  France to Sitges in Spain, where we would then camp for several weeks. Our parents have always loved travelling to sunnier climes and with time in Africa establishing links with churches there.

“1980 was a defining year when Dad was appointed Bishop. Much has been said of the new and uncertain ground this presented, and this is where Dad’s love of people came into its own, as he sought friendships across the city. There was challenge in this role. However, Dad was steadfast in his belief and faith. He had a calm and measured demeanour which was acknowledged and welcomed and became one of his defining characteristics. Challenge came to us as a family and we lost our beloved son and brother, Philip, who died in 1993. These public and personal challenges strengthened the bond between our parents as they supported and held one another through these dark times.

“Dad’s ministry was also in Donegal where my parents established a very happy second home. Dad loved to go walking on the beaches and headlands of the west coast which gave him time for reflection.

“Retirement in 2002 allowed Dad and Mum to share their time between Derry and Donegal. They embraced the opportunity for holidays, returning to favourite places for longer, and these created many happy memories. They chose to stay in Derry as they were so happy here, building on the many affirming relationships that they had established over the 22 years of his ministry. Dad remained involved with the Inner City Trust and he took much joy in seeing how Derry has continued to develop.

“Over the past three years and with changing health for Dad, Mum’s role adapted to that of carer. This change became more profound in recent times and the impact on how they lived required adjustments. Health and social care professionals became a key part of their lives and enabled them to retain their independence. Mum’s resilience and strength of character have been crucial in maintaining them in the home they so cherish, and we give heartfelt thanks and acknowledge her love and devotion to Dad. Their union was powerful and palpable.

“We wish to thank the health and social care professionals for the unstinting care and support which they provided to our parents, in supporting them to remain at home. Many of you will have seen our parents on their weekly trip to town, which they relished, and this was made possible through the assistance of their favourite taxi driver. This team of carers, community district nurses and driver played an essential role in supporting them and we thank each of you for your work and care.

“Dad like all of us has been many different things to many people. In joining us here today we can see his legacy become manifest, as we unite in our connections and create new ones with others. This is what Dad’s life’s work sought to achieve.

“During his last spell in hospital there was a day when, in a moment of brilliant and characteristic clarity, Dad said: “One helps the other”. May that be the profound message that we each take away from our gathering today.

“With so much love and thanks to you, my beautiful Dad.”

Mrs Thelma Mehaffey and her daughter, Wendy

 

Funeral of Bishop James Mehaffey – “a powerful influence for good”

The funeral has taken place in Londonderry of Rt Rev’d Dr James Mehaffey, a former Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, whose friendship and joint peacebuilding with his Roman Catholic counterpart, the late Bishop Edward Daly, inspired many during some of the most violent years of the Troubles.

Bishop Mehaffey’s immediate predecessor, Lord Eames, and his two successors, Bishop Ken Good and Rt Rev’d Andrew Forster, took part in this afternoon’s Service of Thanksgiving for the late bishop’s life, which was led by the Dean of Derry, Very Rev’d Raymond Stewart, assisted by Canon John Merrick. The Roman Catholic Bishop of Derry, Dr Donal McKeown, the Moderator of the Derry and Donegal Presbytery, Rev Colin McKibbin, and the Methodist Superintendent, Rev’d Richard Johnston, also took part.

The Lord Lieutenant of the City of Londonderry, Dr Angela Garvey; Deputy Lieutenant, Mrs Stella Burnside (representing the Lord Lieutenant of the County of Londonderry); former Lord Lieutenant for the County, Sir Denis Desmond; the Duke of Abercorn; and the Deputy Mayor, Cllr Cara Hunter, were in the congregation. Also present were Lord Hay of Ballyore, the Olympic gold medallist Dame Mary Peters, former PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Peter Sheridan, East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell, Sinn Féin MEP Martina Anderson, former SDLP leader Mark Durkan, Mrs Pat Hume, former Church of Ireland Primate Most Rev’d Alan Harper and the Bishop of Mahajanga in Madagascar, Rt Rev’d Hall Speers.

The Archbishop of Armagh, Most Rev’d Dr Richard Clarke, was unable to attend in person and Bishop Andrew Forster read out a tribute from Dr Clarke in which he described Bishop Mehaffey as “a powerful influence for good”.

“Of course, we all have our own individual memories of Jim,” the Archbishop said, “but all of us will recall with particular admiration his work – in company with Bishop Edward Daly – not only for peace but also for reconciliation in this city. Together they brought hope and light into communities where there was precious little of either. We all saw in Bishop Jim a gracious composure coupled with a steely resolve – the sense that this work for peace and harmony between communities so long divided was work for the Kingdom of God, and it would not be thwarted, from whatever quarter.”

The address during the Service was delivered by the Rt Rev’d The Lord Eames, another former Primate of the Church of Ireland, who recalled Dr Mehaffey’s advice to colleagues on the Church of Ireland’s Priorities Committee to remember why they were there.

“If there is a hallmark as he moved to this city to be your Bishop,” Lord Eames said, “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.’”

Before the Service, Bishop Mehaffey’s wife, Thelma, their daughter Wendy and son Tim welcomed the many hundreds of people from across the community who had come to sympathise with the family in their loss. And Wendy read out an emotional tribute to her father, during which she spoke of her love and gratitude to her “beautiful dad”.

She said her father’s love of people came into its own after he was appointed Bishop, as he sought friendships across the city. There was challenge in this role, Wendy said, but he remained steadfast in his belief and faith. “During his last spell in hospital,” she said, “there was a day when, in a moment of brilliant and characteristic clarity, Dad said: ‘One helps the other.’ May that be the profound message that we each take away from our gathering today.”

Bishop Mehaffey’s remains will repose in St Columb’s Cathedral until Monday morning when they will be taken to Belfast for cremation.

Stellar line-up for official opening of ‘St Columb’s School of Music’

The Priests, Irish tenor and folk singer George Hutton, local concert pianist Ruth McGinley and jazz aficionados Scott Flanigan and Cathal Roche will be among the glittering line-up of talent performing at the official launch of St Columb’s School of Music in St Columb’s Cathedral, Londonderry on Saturday 8th February.

The School, at 1 St Columb’s Court, close to the historic St Columb’s Cathedral, was started by Nicholas Morton and Louis Fields in September of this year. Two separate events are planned to mark the opening. The famous jazz duo of Scott Flanigan and Cathal Roche, will kick things off with a lunchtime concert at 1 o’clock, during which they will be joined by the excellent Foyle College Jazz Band. And that evening, at 7.30pm, The Priests, Ruth McGinley and George Hutton will be joined at a gala concert by the Thornhill College Chamber Choir, winners of BBC Northern Ireland School Choir of the Year 2019. Both concerts will be compered by RTE television and radio personality, Bryan Dobson.

In between the two musical events, it will be possible to have a tour of the new School of Music, between 3 and 5 o’clock, when new students can be registered.

All-day tickets, priced at £20, will grant entry into both concerts and to the School of Music itself. These can be obtained in person from the School of Music, or, alternatively, bought online by clicking on the following link: www.stcolumbsschoolofmusic.com/tickets.