Author: Erin Smith


Today will mark the end of an era in the Diocese of Derry and Raphoe as Rev Canon David Ferry retires after 20 years’ service as a hospital chaplain in Londonderry. “I’ll miss the miracles,” the Tyrone man says of his “special calling”. He will be succeeded from tomorrow by the Rector of St Augustine’s Church, Rev Nigel Cairns.

Canon Ferry retired as Rector of the Balteagh group of churches in 2019 but carried on ministering to patients, families and staff in Altnagelvin and Waterside hospitals. It was a role he had first embraced under the late Bishop James Mehaffey.

“Chaplaincy’s a special calling,” Canon Ferry says. “It’s one of the ministries that Christ set apart – care for the sick, care for the disadvantaged – so to be called to that, and to be involved in that, always spoke to me about some sort of special vocation. It’s just an enormous privilege. To be with people, to hear people’s stories, to have the end of life conversations with people, to be the last person to say a prayer with them, it’s an amazing privilege.

“The last two years have been particularly trying, given how Covid has affected hospitals. Canon Ferry and his colleagues found themselves supporting not only patients and relatives, but staff too. “That was a big part of it, but I think their lives were being refined too. There’s nothing like a good furnace to do a bit of refining – so Scripture tells us. There was a whole mixture of bad things [during Covid] but, in that, there was a whole lot of good stuff happening as well, an awful lot of good stuff.“

The last two years tested your vocation,” Canon Ferry concedes. “Everybody in the hospital was tested, whether they knew it or whether they didn’t. Nurses in here were trying to organise not only their nursing life but home education for their children, so everybody was tested.

“We [chaplains] did the same thing [we always did] but we just did it differently. We had FaceTime with patients. That to me was so far removed from how I would do ministry – I take people by the hand, but we couldn’t do that. The staff were very good, though; they kept us all safe; they advised us what PPE to use. Families really appreciated it. We would make a telephone call. I found it very difficult because it wasn’t the way I operated, put it that way. But you’d say to the family, put your phone on speaker and I’ll pray for you all. And it didn’t matter where they were sitting – they could be at home – and I’d say put your phone on speaker and I’ll pray for you all. It was different. It was very different.

”Hospital chaplains are confronted with death and serious illness on a daily basis, but Canon Ferry says the relentlessness never got him down. “As Christians, we’re called to a great hope,” he says. “The world tells us that death is the end of all things. As a Christian, as a Christian chaplain, my hope is – for them, and for me – that death is not the end. Death is an experience we will all have in life. It’s the only thing in life that makes us all equal. But it’s not the end. Whenever you are there with a family and can reassure them through scripture – ‘In my Father’s house are many mansions and I’m going to prepare one for you’ – whenever you bring people to that sort of understanding, then death becomes….different.

”The prospect of retirement holds little appeal for Canon Ferry. “I’ve no clue about what retirement’s going to be like,” he says. “I’ve always tried to live each day in God’s plan as best I can, but it’s not something I’m really looking forward to. I’d love to have a gripe about the Bishop, or the Church or the hospital – it’d make it easier to go – but I don’t. I never ever had a gripe. I don’t know what a gripe is. I’m sure it’ll be great some morning when it’s teeming out of the heavens and I don’t have to get up.

”Will he miss chaplaincy work? “Oh aye. I’ll miss the miracles,” he says. “You see, as a hospital chaplain, every day you see the lame walk, the blind see, the deaf hear and the dead raised. You see those miracles every day. Somebody comes in here not able to walk, they go down to surgery, in two days they’re skipping. They come in here, they can’t see, [surgeons] take off their cataract and they see the very best. Put a hearing aid in…we have become so used to that, and we don’t see the miracle.

“I’m not going to start preaching but I think we need to look, we need to see the miracles. I often say – it’s a Presbyterian thing – but I always say you need to see the burning bush. There’s loads of them [miracles], loads of them, so I’ll miss the miracles. I’ll miss what the patients teach me: they teach me to be thankful, to appreciate the people I need to appreciate.

After twenty years in the hospitals, what in his opinion are the qualities that make for a good chaplain? “I think a good chaplain needs to stay out of God’s way and to know that we’re neither in control nor responsible,” Canon Ferry suggests. “I’m not in control of your life, I can’t keep you alive no matter what prayers I say. If it’s God’s decision that you’ll pass away today then you’ll pass away today. It’s my job to tell you that: God’s in control, not me. And I’m not responsible for you if you pass away; I’m not responsible for where you end up eternally. My responsibility – as the good book tells us – my job is to stand in the gap between God and his people, and as a chaplain that’s what I do, I stand in the gap between God and the patient.”

Canon Ferry has certainly earned his retirement. From tomorrow on, the task of ‘standing in the gap’ between God and the patients in Derry’s hospitals will fall to the Rector of St Augustine’s Church, Rev Nigel Cairns.

During his training for the ministry, the new chaplain watched his predecessor at close quarters, so he has a good understanding of what he’s letting himself in for. “I did a placement with Canon Ferry,” Nigel says. “It’s a frighteningly big commitment, but I enjoyed hospital chaplaincy very much. I appreciated the opportunity to journey with people through the worst of times and through the best of times.

“Miracles do still happen,” Nigel says, “and sometimes hospitals are the places where we see them occurring.

“I regard it as a great privilege to step into Canon Ferry’s shoes. I would like to acknowledge the loyal and dedicated way in which David has nurtured and developed the role of chaplain, widening it to include not only patients and families but the hospital staff too. The importance of that was very evident during the pandemic.”

Bishop Andrew has paid tribute to the outgoing chaplain and offered words of encouragement to his successor. “Canon David Ferry’s ministry to the sick and dying, to anguished relatives, and to hardworking staff in our hospitals has been of enormous comfort, often at the most difficult moments in people’s lives. In particular, I’d like to acknowledge the immense work he and his colleagues did during the pandemic, when hospital visiting was severely restricted. I thank God for the many qualities David has which equipped him perfectly for the role of chaplain. Our Diocese is immensely grateful for all that he has done to further God’s kingdom.“

Obviously, David is a hard person to replace, but I am confident that in Rev Nigel Cairns we have found a worthy successor. Nigel has many of the same pastoral gifts as David, and I have no doubt that patients, families and healthcare staff will benefit greatly from his care and support as chaplain.”

Photo 1: “I’ll miss the miracles,” says Rev Canon David Ferry, who retires today after 20 years as a hospital chaplain.

Photo 2: Rev Nigel Cairns looks forward to journeying with. people “through the worst of times and through the best of times”.

‘Furry friends’ join Bishop Andrew on Gartan visit

The Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev Andrew Forster, brought a number of ‘furry friends’ with him when he visited Gartan National School in Donegal, this morning, along with the Rector of Conwal with Gartan, Rev David Houlton. It was the latest in a series of school visits Bishop Andrew’s making to schools throughout the Diocese of Raphoe.

The pupils and their teachers laid on a special assembly for the Bishop, who’s a patron of Gartan N.S. It included a number of hymns performed by junior and senior pupils, and prayers led by the seniors.

Bishop Andrew used a number of puppets as props to preach to the children about the Parable of the Lost Sheep, explaining to them how important each one of them was in the eyes of God. He also thanked the teaching staff, telling them that they – like healthcare workers – were among the ‘heroes’ of the pandemic, for the way in which they had performed their duties over the two years of the Covid crisis.

The Bishop and Rev Houlton were given a guided tour of the new extension to Gartan N.S. which is still under construction. The extension will double the school’s size when it reopens after the summer holidays.

Church of Ireland General Synod to Meet in Belfast

The Church of Ireland General Synod’s 2022 meeting will take place from Wednesday, 4th May, to Friday, 6th May, in Assembly Buildings, Belfast.  This will be the second meeting of the fifty-second General Synod, and the venue will facilitate the first in-person meeting of General Synod since 2019 when it met in Derry/Londonderry.

The General Synod consists of a House of Bishops with 11 members and a House of Representatives, which currently has a membership of 648 – 216 clerical members and 432 lay members who are elected by the diocesan synods and who hold office for a three-year period.

The primary purpose of the Synod is to enact legislation for the whole Church of Ireland.  Less formal proposals are submitted as motions which, if approved, become resolutions. The Synod also receives reports from various committees and boards, which are debated by the members.

More information on the 2022 General Synod, including details for media accreditation, will be made available nearer to the time of the meeting at

The 2023 General Synod is scheduled to take place in the Croke Park Conference Centre, Dublin, from 11th to 13th May 2023.

Old friends share experiences of ministry in Solomon Islands

There was a healthy turnout of people from different parishes in the Diocese of Derry for the Evening Service in Christ Church, Limavady on Sunday March 13th to hear from a special visitor from the South Seas.

Rt Rev William ‘Willie’ Alaha Pwaisiho, a retired bishop of the Anglican Church of Melanesia, was in the North West at the invitation of old friend Rev Canon Mike Roemmele to share about ministry, life and culture in Solomon Islands, where the two men first met more than 50 years ago.

In the late 1960s, the young Mike Roemmele was teaching in the Solomon Islands with Voluntary Service Overseas and the even younger William Pwaisiho was a student in the school where he taught. The two have since completed many decades in ministry – in Rt Rev William Pwaisiho’s case as a bishop – before their well-earned retirements.

It was a busy day for Bishop ‘Willie’ who preached in St Columb’s Cathedral, Londonderry on Sunday morning before delivering another homily seven hours later in Limavady. In his address there, Bishop Pwaisiho talked about the Melanesian Church’s debt to people from these shores who brought the faith to the South Sea Islands, and who supported the church there with people, money and prayers.

The Rector of Christ Church, Rev Canon Aonghus Mayes, led Sunday evening’s Service. He was assisted by Bishop Andrew Forster, who welcomed Bishop ‘Willie’ to the Diocese. There was a third Bishop in church for the occasion – Rt Rev Patrick Rooke, retired Bishop of Tuam, Killala, and Achonry.

Canon Mayes thanked Bishop Pwaisiho and Canon Roemmele for sharing with the congregation. The Rector led the congregation in praying for the people of Ukraine, in light of recent events there, and for better stewardship of the earth’s resources.

After the service, Canon Roemmele gave a slide presentation in Christ Church Limavady’s Parish Hall, assisted by his old friend. Canon Roemmele brought along many artifacts and mementoes from his time in the Solomon Islands which were placed on display for their audience to view. The two men talked to the group about the impact of climate change on the islands – a number of which have been lost to the sea in recent decades – as well as the effects of decolonisation.

The evening concluded with Bishop Pwaisiho reciting the Lord’s Prayer in Pidgin English.

Balteagh parishioners respond to crisis in Ukraine

A lorry pulled away from Balteagh Rectory on Saturday 12th March loaded with items destined for Eastern Europe where they’ll be used to support children displaced from their homes in war-torn Ukraine. They were raised in response to an appeal begun by a young member of the Parish of Aghanloo, Balteagh, Carrick and Tamlaghtard.

Eleven-year-old Megan (surname withheld in line with child safeguarding requirements) was appalled by the scenes of suffering she had seen on television after Russian troops invaded Ukraine. “I used to knit trauma teddies, along with my grandmother, and when I saw the way the children in Ukraine were suffering, I wanted to do something to help.”

Megan appealed through her church for people to donate coats, scarves, blankets, hats and toy teddy bears. Both she, and the local Rector, Rev Rhys Jones, were overwhelmed by the response.

“We’re four small country churches,” Rev Jones said, “two thousand miles from Ukraine, on the other side of Europe. Initially, I think, people felt a bit powerless, unsure what they could do to help the people of Ukraine – especially the youngsters there. It took one of our own young people, eleven-year-old Megan, to show us how we could respond. The response has been amazing. I’m not surprised by our people’s generosity but I have been overwhelmed by it.”

On Saturday morning, volunteers gathered at the rectory to help load up the lorry. For over a week, the rectory and the parish hall had been transformed into a depot where people could drop off donations. “People were landing with boxes and bags full of stuff,” said Diocesan reader Brian Robinson, “carloads of clothes, toys, packs of nappies. People came from right across the community, and from as far away as Dungiven, Bovevagh and Magilligan, to support Megan’s appeal. The response has been phenomenal.”

Prior to the lorry’s departure, Megan stood on the vehicle and thanked everyone who had contributed or supported the appeal, including Drumachose Primary School, Bovevagh Scouts and First Limavady Girls’ Brigade. And there was a spontaneous round of applause from her fellow parishioners in recognition of her initiative and effort.

Troubles victims remembered in St Columb’s Cathedral

Relatives who lost loved ones during the worst year of the Troubles – 1972 – took part in a Service of Remembrance and Thanksgiving in Saint Columb’s Cathedral, Londonderry on Friday the 11th March, which was organised in conjunction with South East Fermanagh Foundation (SEFF) to mark the European Day of Remembrance for Victims of Terrorism.

The Dean of Derry, Very Rev Raymond Stewart, who led the Service, welcomed those who were “parents, husbands and wives, sons and daughters” of those who were being remembered. “Many of you have carried emotional scars over many decades,” the Dean said. “In the words of the theme of this Service, I hope that the hurt you have felt and continue to feel is acknowledged, so your pain will be healed by our loving and merciful God.”

SEFF spokesman Kenny Donaldson addressed the congregation, saying the Service had come about because they were staring into 30 years of 50th anniversaries. “1972, as you painfully know, was the worst year of the Troubles in the context of the loss of human life. Almost 500 people perished as a result of those Troubles and 4,000 were injured, and I also want to say that there is a family who are contributing, tonight, and they still await even closure around that issue,” – a reference to the family of one of the ‘Disappeared’, Columba McVeigh.

Mr Donaldson said they had gathered as one in the Cathedral to send out a message of solidarity and of unity. “We come from across the religious, and no-practising, and across the political spectrum, in whatever shade you come. But as we always say within SEFF, we need to start realising, what is the ‘them and us’ within our society in Northern Ireland? Is it Protestant and Catholic? Is it Unionist and Nationalist? Or is it actually where we stand on the issue of the sanctity of human life? That surely, folks, is the real ‘them and us’.”

In his sermon, the Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev Andrew Forster, pointed out that the sanctuary of the cathedral had been decorated with flowers in the colours of the Ukrainian flag for Friday evening’s Service. “Of all people,” Bishop Andrew said, “you understand the anxiety, the fear, the heartache that all the people of Ukraine are going through tonight. It’s very appropriate, this evening, that we pray for them and also [that] we give to their relief later on this evening.” As they left the church, the congregation were invited to contribute to a collection which will be used to alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine.

The Bishop said he was honoured and humbled to share with people who had borne pain and heartache and grief with dignity and grace. “You have lived through years of lost experiences, of opportunities that never came, of children that were never born, of grandchildren that were never to be because of a bullet or a bomb.”

Bishop Andrew described grief as a journey without a terminal or destination. It was a journey people had to travel throughout their lives. “To be frank, as a pastor, I have stood in awe of the resilience of many people just like you who have gone on to live their lives, to bless their families and help their communities, yet I know that the years of trauma and the tears of trauma are still incredibly raw, and they are tears that never truly go away.”

The Bishop recalled some of the worst incidents from 1972’s “dastardly roll call”, names that he said were carved into the granite of our memory and etched into our collective psyche: Bloody Sunday, Aldershot, Claudy, The Abercorn, Bloody Friday. “And let me say something that all of you know only too well, that tears transcend division: there is no difference in a broken Protestant heart and a broken Catholic heart; there is no difference in the heartache and grief and tears of loss. And what we do tonight, all these years later – and what you do, I’m sure, most nights – is grieve. Tonight, we grieve together. Grief is that terrible emotion of having to say goodbye, compounded when we’re not ready to say goodbye, and multiplied when the grief is caused by the wicked and evil intent of another human being.”

The God whom they worshipped tonight was finely tuned to our hurts and fears, heartache and pain, Bishop Andrew said. “Our God is the God who comes alongside those who grieve, but – more than that – who carries us in our hurt. We grieve today and grief is that emotion that in some strange way helps us – it breaks us, but it helps us understand the depth of love that we have for that person whom we have lost. Grief writes in capital letters the word ‘Love’, because it shows us again and again the love that was given to us by the one we’ve lost, and the love that in a strange way we still give to them after all these years.”

Friday evening’s service was a ‘Service of Remembrance and Thanksgiving’. “Today, what we are thankful for,” the Bishop said, “are the gifts of God that every life lost in 1972 and all those other years of our Troubles, the gifts of God that all those lives were to families, and friends and community. I know it’s a very different context but St Paul in one of his letters wrote this: ‘I thank my God every time I remember you.’ And thankfulness, turned to prayer to God, gives us a renewed strength; thankfulness, turned to prayer to God, gives us grace and resilience for the good days and the hard days.”

During the Service, Eugene McVeigh – whose brother Columba was shot dead and buried secretly by the IRA almost 50 years ago – shared a reflection. The Old and New Testament readings were given by the brother of a murdered police officer and the daughter of a Claudy bomb victim. Other readings were delivered by people who lost loved ones in 1972 and by a former police officer who was grievously injured in an IRA booby-trap bombing in 1988.

Dean Stewart was assisted in the Service by Rev Canon John Merrick and Fr Michael Canny, and the Dean welcomed other clergy who were in the congregation.

New Rector Instituted in Desertmartin and Termoneeny

The new Rector of Desertmartin and Termoneeny, Rev Philip Benson, led prayers for the people of Ukraine on Friday evening (25th February) during his Service of Institution in St Comgall’s Church in Desertmartin.

The new incumbent was instituted by the Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev Andrew Forster, who described it as “a red-letter day” for the parishes. The service marked the end of a vacancy that had lasted over two years, following the retirement of the previous Rector, Rev Mike Dornan.

As the service drew to a close, Rev Benson gave thanks to God for the peace that he offered us, and prayed for those living in areas where there was conflict and violence. “So, we commend to your merciful prayer the people and government of Ukraine that being guided by your providence, they may dwell secure in your peace. Grant to their leaders and all in authority wisdom and strength to know and to do your will. Fill them with the love of truth and righteousness, and make them ever mindful of their calling to serve their people. And we ask your blessing upon the work of the United Nations and all who seek to build peace.”

Earlier in the service, the Preacher, Rev Chris Mac Bruithin – who has known the new incumbent since their student days – disclosed to the congregation in St Comgall’s that their new Rector was a Star Trek fan – “when I say fan, I mean fanatic” – was a Leeds United fan and had already ‘liked’ Desertmartin FC on social media. He also had a quick wit and was very good at puns. “I thought that tonight, in Philip’s honour, and in light of our Gospel passage, I might try my hand at some puns. It’s a reading in which branches are bearing fruit and I thought, ‘Philip’s branching out in the Diocese, he’s going out on a limb coming here, but he’s landed a plum job.’”

Rev Mac Bruithin reminded the new incumbent that God himself had brought him to the Parishes of Desertmartin and Termoneeny to bear fruit, where he would do things in his own way in the skin that God had put him in.

“You’ll learn very quickly,” the preacher told the congregation, “that Philip has a gentle strength, and that in my experience is a rare thing to come across; Philip has a sincere love of God; he has a genuine love of people and he will love you. He has a knowledge of scripture and he has an ability to teach it, and he has a sensitivity for reconciliation.

“Philip, you could have applied those talents and transferred those skills to other careers and made lots of money and made a real success, but you’ve offered them as a gift to God.”

Before instituting the new Rector, Bishop Andrew assured him that “the modesty” of the gathering – the church was still practising social distancing and sitting in alternating pews – did not reflect the huge welcome that he was getting. “Our prayer tonight, as you begin this new chapter in your life as a family, as you begin this new chapter in your ministry, our prayer tonight is that you will quickly feel at home, that you will know the love of the family of God in these parishes, and you’ll know the equipping of the Holy Spirit as a family and as a minister of the Gospel in this place.

“A Service of Institution is a red-letter day, it’s a red-letter day for a parish. It’s a day when we look back in thankfulness for all that’s gone before, and we look ahead, we look ahead with excitement as to what God plans for us in the future. You know, we’re living in challenging times for any church as we move out of the pandemic, and what you will have in your new rector is someone who will help you together to find what it is to renew, rebuild and re-energise the Church of Jesus Christ in these parishes for what we face ahead, with both trepidation but also joy, because this is God’s work, and we delight in being part of God’s work this night.”

During Friday evening’s service, gratitude was expressed to the Rev Tommy Allen, who had provided cover in the parishes during the two-year vacancy. Bishop Andrew was assisted in the service by the Archdeacon of Derry, Ven. Robert Miller; the Diocesan Registrar, Rev Canon David Crooks; the Rural Dean, Rev Canon Colin Welsh, and the Bishop’s Curate, Rev Carmen Hayes.

Ulster University to Honour Bishop Ken Good

A former Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev Ken Good, is one of ten leaders who are to be recognised with honorary degrees by Ulster University for their “outstanding contributions” locally and globally.

At a ceremony to officially install Dr Colin Davidson as the sixth Chancellor of Ulster University, the internationally renowned artist will be honoured for his outstanding commitment to remembrance, healing and excellence in the field of art.

Bishop Good and Dr Alastair Hamilton CBE are being recognised for their outstanding leadership, while the commitment of Patrick Doherty OBE to economic and cultural development will also be honoured.

Professor Rafael Bengoa, who led who led a review into the Northern Ireland health service, and award-winning playwright and creator of ‘Derry Girls’ Lisa McGee will join those being conferred as honorary graduates in recognition of their exceptional contribution within their specific field, across the areas of construction, media, arts, education, community regeneration and business.

For outstanding contribution to journalism, education and charitable projects in Northern Ireland, Sky News’ David Blevins will be recognised alongside golf and hospitality consultant Wilma Erskine OBE, for her outstanding services to golf tourism, economic regeneration and securing Royal Portrush as the 2019 venue for the British Open.

For services to education, the “inspirational” Principal of Hazelwood Integrated College Máire Thompson will be recognised, as will Keltbray Executive Chairman and owner Brendan Kerr for his support of apprenticeships, training and entrepreneurship.

Commenting on the recipients, Ulster University Vice-Chancellor, Professor Paul Bartholomew said:

“Each year, we welcome thousands of students to Ulster University, and during their studies we strive to equip them with the skills, knowledge and experience required to make a positive contribution to society. We firmly believe it is important that our students have positive role models to whom they can look up to for inspiration; role models who are making a real difference in the world around them, whether locally or globally.

“As a society and as individuals we have faced many challenges over the past two years.  It is therefore timely and uplifting that we are now in a position to be able to honour these outstanding role models. Each of these individuals demonstrate leadership, resilience, integrity, progressive thinking, determination, talent and creativity, and they are a source of inspiration to us all.”

Prayers in a time of war in the Ukraine

The Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev Andrew Forster, has commended new prayer resources, ‘Prayers in a Time of War in the Ukraine’, which have been produced by the Church of Ireland’s Liturgical Advisory Committee. “I am sure many of us were distressed on waking up this morning,” Bishop Andrew said, “to learn the news from overnight of Russian forces’ invasion of a sovereign, independent, democratic European country. It is distressing to read reports of deaths in Ukraine and of explosions in some of its largest cities.

“This is an unsettling time. In many ways, we can feel powerless in such a situation. There is one thing, though, that we can all do, and that is turn to God our Father and place our trust in him. The Liturgical Advisory Committee has kindly prepared a number of prayers which I commend to you and encourage you to use.”    

Prayers in a time of war in the Ukraine

O Lord our Governor, whose glory is in all the world:
We commend to your merciful care the people and government of Ukraine
that, being guided by your providence, they may dwell secure in your peace. 
Grant to their leaders and all in authority, 
wisdom and strength to know and to do your will. 
Fill them with the love of truth and righteousness, 
and make them ever mindful of their calling to serve their people; 
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

O God,  
who has knit together in one family all the nations of the earth:  
remove far from us the evil of war.  
Pour out upon the leaders of the nations your spirit of peace,  
restrain the passions of those who plan aggression,
strengthen the hands of those who strive for justice and peace 
and hasten the time when the kingdoms of this world 
shall become the kingdom of your Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ.

You can find more prayers for use during the crisis in Ukraine at this link:

Gala Concert: MozART at St Columb’s Cathedral

St Columb’s School of Music is holding a Gala Concert in Saint Columb’s Cathedral on Saturday 5th March. The guest performers are MozART Group – a cabaret and comedy string quartet based in Warsaw, Poland. The Group are known for their unique approach to classical music and this will be their first visit to Northern Ireland.

Tickets can be bought online at or by calling in to the School of Music at 1 Saint Columb’s Court, Londonderry during opening hours (Monday – Thursday, 3.00 p.m. – 9.00 p.m.).