Recently, at the Joint Emergency Services Carol Service in St Columb’s Cathedral, we gave thanks for the paramedics, firefighters, police officers and Foyle Search and Rescue volunteers who work so hard to keep us safe. The omicron variant was already loose in the community, and some felt deflated or worried, even frightened.
Suddenly, though, as the choir sang, a solitary young voice soared high into the vault. It belonged to a beautiful little girl, who simply stole the show. ‘Away in a manger’ can rarely have been sung with such gusto. For a few precious moments, the adults around her were uplifted by her unbridled joy at the wonder of Christmas.
Seven hundred years before Jesus was born, Isaiah prophesied the Saviour’s coming. The wolf would live with the lamb, he said; the leopard would lie down with the goat; the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child would lead them.
This Christmas, many of our neighbours need to be uplifted, as they worry about Covid; wrestle with the soaring cost of living, mica or struggling businesses; or because they’re grieving.
At the carol service, that little girl blessed us as we celebrated the nativity. This Christmas – amid the uncertainty and fear – let us give thanks for those who care for us and welcome Jesus into our hearts, with his gifts of faith and hope and love. Let us trust the Christ child to lead us into a brighter future.
One of Derry-Londonderry’s most historic churches, Christ Church Londonderry, has been awarded a £10,000 grant by the National Churches Trust as part of the Treasure Ireland project. It coincides with the announcement of a new collaboration between Ulster University, the Inner City Trust, St Eugene’s Cathedral and Christ Church which will offer greater access to historic buildings in the Northland Road area.
The Treasure Ireland project, which is funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the Pilgrim Trust and the Department for Communities, supports historic places of worship in Northern Ireland. The Christ Church announcement marks the first occasion on which the project’s Northern Ireland grants committee has awarded the maximum Treasure Ireland grant amount.
The Chief Executive of the National Churches Trust, Claire Walker, said: “The latest funding from the National Churches Trust’s Treasure Ireland project is a much-needed lifeline for Christ Church Parish Church. The grant will safeguard unique local heritage and provide a real boost to the people who look after Christ Church.
“Our thanks to the funders of Treasure Ireland: the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the Pilgrim Trust and the Department for Communities.”
Christ Church – a Gothic Revival church – is located on the city’s Infirmary Road opposite St Eugene’s Cathedral. Erected in 1830, to the designs of architect John Ferguson, it was the first purpose-built Protestant church constructed outside the city walls, and marked Derry’s northern expansion in the early-nineteenth century.
The church sustained severe damage in an arson attack in 1996 but retains many fine features, including a significant collection of stained glass designed by the artist William MacBride.
The £10,000 grant has been awarded for the restoration of Christ Church’s tower roof, its stonework and for waterproofing. The Northern Ireland grants committee was impressed by the conservation-led approach of the project which will help to protect the historic fabric of the church. To date, Treasure Ireland has supported twenty-one places of worship across Northern Ireland with grants totalling £106,000.
Irwin Thompson, a member of Christ Church’s Select Vestry, commented: “This is a remarkably generous grant from the Treasure Ireland Fund which will allow us to renovate the Tower, making it watertight. Historic building consultants McCollum Conservation and the National Churches Trust have been wonderfully supportive of our efforts to preserve this historic building while encouraging the formation of a Northland Heritage Group to promote community and tourist engagement with the buildings of this area of the city.
“Fr Paul Farren and Emmet Thompson of St Eugene’s Cathedral; Helen Quigley and Damian McAteer of the Inner City Trust; Prof. Malachy Ó Néill of University of Ulster; and Christ Church’s Archdeacon Robert Miller, Jim Kelley and myself, are forming a charity to encourage liaison between our organisations and community access to the important historic buildings and records we treasure. This area of Londonderry is well-known for its cultural activity, which will be enhanced by the Northland Heritage Group’s efforts, beginning with support for the ‘Walled City Passion’ Festival and events next Easter.”
(The featured photo shows James Kelley, Irwin Thompson and Ven. Robert Miller, of Christ Church Londonderry, outside the church).
The Education Minister, Michelle McIlveen, was among political, community and religious leaders who gathered in the Fountain Estate in Londonderry on Tuesday 14th December for the official opening of the newly refurbished and extended Cathedral Youth Club.
The Dean of Derry, Very Rev Raymond Stewart, said the modern, state-of-the-art premises was “a joy to behold”. It served the young people and the whole community in the Fountain Estate and beyond.
“The Cathedral Youth Club was founded 49 years ago, in 1972,” Dean Stewart told guests, “by Jeanette Warke, her late husband David, and the Dean of Derry at that time, George Good. The club met initially in London Street and had a membership of 11 members. Today, there are 86 members of the Youth Club. The club moved to these premises in 1980. “Cathedral Youth Club was founded at the beginning of the Troubles to provide a place of learning, recreation and social gathering for the young people of this area and it has fulfilled its role admirably for almost five decades.
“The youth club is managed by a wonderful lady, Jeanette Warke, whose vision, dedication and enthusiasm has encouraged so many young people and volunteers over the years. Jeanette is a lady who works passionately for the people of the Fountain Estate and of this city, and this centre is here largely because of her vision and drive.” Her Majesty’s Lord Lieutenant for the City of Londonderry, Dr Angela Garvey, said it was a special day for the whole Warke family and especially for Jeanette. “You work in sometimes difficult circumstances,” Dr Garvey told Mrs Warke, “but you’ve always managed to try and think outside the box – in fact not to be kept inside the box – and you’ve always wanted to share with your whole community, and I think that is one of the trademarks of the Cathedral Youth Club.”
The presence of Mrs Warke’s son, Graham – in his official capacity as Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District – added poignancy to the occasion. “For me as Mayor” he said, “this is a special one. When I was born, I grew up with this youth club in the Fountain community and it’s always been in our hearts. I hear his name mentioned, there – my father, David – and he’ll be looking down on us and seeing what’s here for the young people of the Fountain, and he’ll be so proud.”
Alderman Warke said his mother had expanded on the founders’ early vision. “You have a family – and it’s not the Warke family, it’s all the young ones around this community and further afield – who mean so much to you and you’re an absolute credit to this city.” The Mayor looked forward to many more families and generations coming through the centre. The Education Minister, whose department supported the premises’ expansion with £640,000 in funding, said she was pleased to be present to celebrate the official opening of the newly refurbished facility. “It’s vitally important,” Miss McIlveen said, “to continue to provide young people with a safe and friendly environment, in which to meet and develop their own individual skills, which in turn would allow them to enhance these skills within their local community and hopefully improve their own educational outlook.” The minister hoped that the refurbishment would allow Cathedral Youth Club to continue for another 50 years.
Local MLA Gary Middleton said that being a local person, he saw at first hand the great work that went on in the Cathedral Youth Club. “Whether it be patchwork, or computer classes, or youth groups and cookery classes, all of it happens underneath the roof here at the youth club. So, this additional money that has been secured – that’s been worked hard for – by Jeanette and her team here at the youth club, that will ensure that for the next 50 years there’s a legacy in place for Cathedral Youth Club, going forward.” Mr Middleton said the Warke family should be very proud that they had sustained the club through their leadership and the support of the Fountain community.
Mrs Warke thanked the many partners who had helped to make the new centre possible, including the club’s volunteers. “It’s alright giving me all this glory,” she said, “but it’s the volunteers who make this club.” She also paid tribute to the Fountain community who had put up with much disruption while the refurbishment work had been carried out, and thanked the church leaders for their support.
After the speeches, the Mayor unveiled a plaque on the ground floor of the centre to mark the occasion.
Leaders of the four main Christian Churches in Londonderry came together on Monday evening, 13th December, for St Columb’s Cathedral’s traditional Emergency Services Carol Service and a Service of Thanksgiving and Praise for the Emergency Services. The service was led by the Dean of Derry, Very Rev Raymond Stewart, who was assisted by the Cathedral’s Pastoral Assistant, Rev Canon John Merrick.
Dean Stewart said it was a particular pleasure to welcome members of the Emergency Services in the city. Uniformed members of the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service, the Fire and Rescue Service, the Police Service of Northern Ireland, Foyle Search and Rescue, St John Ambulance and British Red Cross were in attendance.
“All of us have, in one way or another, seen at first hand the effects of the Coronavirus pandemic,” Dean Stewart said. “It has impacted on the way that we have been able or unable to live our lives. Members of the Emergency Services, who have been for so long on the front line, have earned our admiration and respect. We can all remember those evenings that we clapped to express our thanks. And, tonight, we again express our thanks to you and your colleagues for having kept us safe and for continuing to keep us safe in these uncertain times.”
During the service, readings were delivered by the Minister of Carlisle Road Methodist Church, Rev John Montgomery; the Moderator of Derry and Donegal Presbytery, Rev Keith Hibbert; the Bishop of Derry, Dr Donal McKeown; the Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev Andrew Forster; and by Canon Merrick.
Among those in church for the service were Her Majesty’s Lord Lieutenant for the City of Londonderry, Dr Angela Garvey; the Queen’s Lord Lieutenant for the County of Londonderry, Alison Millar; Paula McIntyre MBE, High Sheriff of the County of Londonderry; Linda Heaney, High Sheriff of Derry City and Strabane District Council; and the Mayor of Derry City and Strabane, Alderman Graham Warke.
There was strict social distancing in place during the service, with those present required to wear face coverings and sit in alternating pews.
Five local charities have benefitted from sales at St Canice’s Parish Church’s thrift shop, New Beginnings. The groups – which were chosen on a cross-community basis – were Foyle Search and Rescue, Londonderry Orphans Society, St Vincent de Paul, North West Community First Responders and Foyle Women’s Aid.
The current New Beginnings premises opened last June in the Benbow Industrial Estate, on the outskirts of Eglinton village. Its proceeds are reinvested in the local community through the St Canice’s Hall Restoration Appeal – which aims to replace the parish hall destroyed in the August 2017 flood – and by supporting local charities.
The cheque presentations were made by the Rector of St Canice’s, Rev Canon Paul Hoey, who was joined by New Beginnings’ coordinator Roberta Sinclair and churchwarden Elaine Way. Representatives of three of the chosen organisations turned up in person at the shop in Eglinton on Monday 13th December to collect donations. They were Noel McLaughlin of North West Community First Responders; Rita Hull of St Vincent de Paul; and Ian Connor from Foyle Search and rescue.
New Beginnings is described by Canon Hoey as “a place of caring and sharing for the whole community”. It has many items for sale – including giftware, jewellery, clothing, handbags, crafts, books and lots and lots of decorations – all donated by local people.
The parishioners of Desertmartin and Termoneeny learned on Sunday 12th December that a new rector had been appointed for their parishes. Rev Philip Benson – a Bangor man – will be instituted on Friday 25th February, and will succeed Rev Mike Dornan who retired in October 2020.
The appointment was announced at this morning’s services in St Comgall’s Church in Desertmartin and St Conlus’ Church in Termoneeny, as well as in Rev Benson’s current parish, Kilwaughter and Cairncastle with All Saints in Larne.
The new rector was ordained a deacon in September 2014, serving his internship in the Grouped Parishes of Finaghy and Upper Malone. Following his ordination as a priest, in September 2015, he became curate in Larne and Inver with Glynn and Raloo. Philip is married to Carolyn, and they have one daughter, Hannah.
Rev Benson grew up attending Carnalea Methodist Church. He was educated at RBAI and Queen’s University, Belfast where he studied Theology. Prior to ministry, he was employed as a full-time youth worker and worked for Goldsmiths Jewellers. His interests include football, movies, music and history.
The Archbishop of Armagh, Most Rev’d John McDowell, was in Raphoe on Tuesday evening (7th December, 2021) to preach at a Service of Choral Evensong in St Eunan’s Cathedral which celebrated the 1,500th anniversary of the birth of St Columba.
The Service, which was led by the Rural Dean for Raphoe, Rev Canon David Crooks, featured the Choir of St Columb’s Cathedral, Londonderry, accompanied by its Organist, Dr Derek Collins. The Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev Andrew Forster, also took part.
In his sermon, Archbishop McDowell said he was delighted to be in the cathedral for the first time. “We have learned, funnily enough in Covid,” he said, “when we weren’t allowed to come into church, we have learned just how important buildings are to us. We were complaining for years about them being a millstone around our necks but they’re very often the places where we first encountered the holiness of God, where we have had significant moments in our lives and in the formation of our faith, and we cherish them: there’s much more to them than simply stone and wood.”
The Archbishop disclosed a “connection” with the patron saint whose birth was being commemorated and with the church in which the service was taking place: Archbishop McDowell was ordained a deacon on St Columba’s Day and was consecrated Bishop on St Eunan’s Day.
The Primate chose “the great Celtic inheritance of our Church” as one of the themes for his sermon. He said the Jesus Christ whom we proclaim and Columba served was the greatest figure in human history. “It was because Columba and those like him had a faith in that greatness, and had faith in the faithfulness of God, that despite all the mistakes they made – despite the largeness, the grossness, of their sins; his temper; the people who died because of the arrogance that he had – it was because he knew that he owed Jesus Christ a debt he could never repay that he was the great apostle that he was, who spread and helped to spread the gospel on the continent of Europe.
“So, when we think of Columba, let’s not think of him as a quaint figure in a window; he was full of flesh and blood, and it was because of that – God used his weaknesses as much as his strengths, as He does with the best of His saints – we remember him, the great passion of his ministry and the example that he has left to us.”
Among those listening to the sermon in St Eunan’s were two of the four surviving crewmembers of a curragh which was rowed from Derry to Iona in 1963 to mark the 1,400th anniversary of St Columba’s voyage to the island. The pair posed for photographs with the Archbishop after the Service.
Members of Derry and Raphoe Mothers’ Union heard graphic accounts illustrating the extent and impact of domestic abuse when they attended a special ‘Global Day Service’ in St Columb’s Cathedral on Saturday 27th November, 2021. The service was held in support of the organisation’s ‘No more 1-in-3’ campaign, which this year has focused on gender-based violence and sexual abuse.
Saturday’s service was led by the Diocesan MU’s outgoing chaplain, Rev Canon Katie McAteer, who was assisted by Rev Lindsey Farrell and Rev Liz Fitzgerald. They were supported by the Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev Andrew Forster, who addressed the congregation, and the Dean of Derry, Very Rev Raymond Stewart, who symbolically blessed a basket of items for the domestic abuse services.
Canon McAteer said those gathered in the Cathedral were raising their voices “on behalf of the voiceless to say, ‘No more “1-in-3”’. We cry out to our loving, righteous God for an end to the devastating statistic that one in three women globally will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime.”
There was a poignant demonstration of solidarity with victims during a three-minute silence which was observed simultaneously in many countries. The local women sat in socially-distanced groups of three, in which the middle women covered their heads with purple scarves; these were removed as the silence ended, signifying their wish for an end to the ‘1-in-3’.
Among those present at Saturday’s service were the Queen’s Lord Lieutenant for the City of Londonderry, Dr Angela Garvey, and the Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council, Alderman Graham Warke. The service was addressed by women from three local organisations which help domestic abuse victims: Edel Fox from Omagh Women’s Aid; Mary McKenna from Donegal Domestic Violence Services; and Marie Brown, from Foyle Women’s Aid.
Ms Fox talked about the impact the pandemic had had on victims, and the challenges it had posed for groups like hers which sought to help victims. She said that every 17 minutes, on average, the PSNI received a phone call from someone needing help because of domestic violence.
Mary McKenna revealed that in the last year, the Donegal Domestic Violence Service had worked with women from Poland, Slovakia, Moldova, Morocco, Afghanistan, Venezuela, India, Nigeria, the Philippines, South Africa, Romania, Brazil, Egypt, Sudan and Syria. “The issues all of these women will tell us about is the cultural acceptance of abuse towards women in their community.” She said the biggest fear they had was being threatened with being returned to their country of origin without their children. “For any woman, the thought of losing their children is horrific and this is what keeps many of these women where they are.”
Marie Brown, of Foyle Women’s Aid, revealed that year on year in Northern Ireland, the incidence of domestic violence had increased, and was now at “epidemic levels”. Seventy percent of the victims were female, she said, and during lockdown the number of women Foyle Women’s Aid dealt with rose by thirty per cent. Ms Brown said that eight women had lost their lives [to domestic violence] during lockdown, and another two had died since lockdown ended, “so the situation is pretty stark”.
Bishop Andrew thanked Mothers’ Union for organising Saturday’s service. “I sat at my seat in the Cathedral and whenever we turned for the three minutes of silence, and to look down the Cathedral and to see those heads covered, I found it deeply moving but also deeply distressing, distressing to see the proportion – so many people – affected by this terrible evil, and it is an evil.”
The Bishop thanked the Mothers’ Union and its Diocesan President Jacqui Armstrong for raising awareness of domestic violence, but he said that all of us – male and female – needed to “own this” and share this message. “As a man,” he said, “we must carry this message beyond these walls, that we must be the people who call out domestic violence, who challenge domestic violence, who raise awareness of domestic violence.” He said the message shouldn’t be left solely in the hands of women; men also had to be “the messengers of the wilderness and the pain that so many live with because of gender-based violence”.
MU’s Diocesan President, Ms Armstrong, said more had to be done to get to the root cause of gender-based violence. “We as a society – and it’s not just Church it’s all our communities, between our schools, the GAA, hockey clubs, Girls Brigade, Girl Guides, Boy Scouts – all of us need to work together in the North and South of Ireland, with government help, to get rid of the myths about domestic abuse and get down to the grass roots and create the healthy relationships that Adel and Mary and Marie have been talking about.”
Local church leaders gathered with hundreds of people at the War Memorial in the centre of Londonderry on Sunday morning, 14th November 2021, for a Remembrance Sunday service. The attendance was well up on last year’s, at which numbers were badly affected by restrictions introduced to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Among those who laid wreaths,. this morning, were the Queen’s Lord Lieutenant for the City of Londonderry, Dr Angela Garvey, and the Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council, Alderman Graham Warke.
The religious aspect of the ceremony was led by Rev Canon John Merrick from St Columb’s Cathedral. Readings were performed by the Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev Andrew Forster; the Vicar General of the Derry Diocese, Fr Michael Canny; and Rev John Montgomery from Carlisle Road Methodist Church.
After the ceremony, the Dean of Derry, Very Rev Raymond Stewart, led a Service of Remembrance in St Columb’s Cathedral, where he was assisted by Canon Merrick.
In a deeply personal sermon, Bishop Forster talked to the congregation about his grandfather, Roger Charles Botley – who fought at the Battle of Ypres, and was later wounded and discharged from service – and his late uncle and godfather, RUC Constable Billy Forster, who was awarded the Queen’s Gallantry Medal for saving a man’s life as a car bomb exploded in Belfast almost 50 years ago. “I wonder who you remember today,” Bishop Andrew said, “with solemn gratitude and thankfulness, with a deep mixture of pride and grateful hearts?
“On this day, we, as a nation, fulfil our sacred duty of remembrance for those who held back the tide of war, for those who held back the tide of terrorist violence, so that you and I could sleep safely in our beds and live our lives peacefully. Today we acknowledge their service and sacrifice, and we fulfil our solemn duty by saying ‘We will remember them.’”
Sunday’s service was held in compliance with public health restrictions, which meant the traditional Poppy Appeal collection was suspended. However, as this year marks the centenary of the foundation of the Royal British Legion, members of the congregation were invited to contribute to the Poppy Appeal as they left the church.
Bishop Andrew was the guest speaker at the second ‘Freedom’ event for young people in the North West, which took place in Richill Baptist Church in Londonderry on Saturday 13th November 2021.
The bible teaching event, which will be gathering on the second Saturday of each month, began in October. It aims to build a Christian friendship network that will build confidence and further discipleship among year 8s and members of local youth groups.
Derry and Raphoe’s Youth Ministry team was well represented at the event, with Diocesan Youth Officer, Claire Hinchliff, and Scripture Union’s E3 Schools Officer, Rachel Miller, among the trio of leaders, although the ladies were outshone in the sartorial stakes by their colleague, Andy Lamberton, of Exodus North West, who donned a giant banana costume for the occasion – subtly indicating that he was ‘top banana’ this evening.
The chairman of Derry and Raphoe Youth (DRY), Rev Peter Ferguson, was there to lend a hand, and All Saints Clooney’s Rector, Rev David McBeth, and curate Rev Andrea Cotter, were there to support the event.
Dozens of young people got a great insight into their distinguished guest when Claire ‘grilled’ her boss in an impromptu Q&A session on stage. What does a bishop do, she asked (his role, Bishop Andrew said, was “to help ministers in the diocese to do their job and to support churches in their mission”); what was his favourite flavour of ice cream (“vanilla – very boring, but it is vanilla”); did he prefer cats or dogs (“dogs, definitely dogs…I have a dog, who’s 12, she’s called Benna and she’s very cute, but – when you’re a dog – 12 is very old”); where did he go to school (“I went to the best school in Northern Ireland, Sullivan Upper in Holywood”); what was his favourite way to eat potatoes (“I like baby boiled – a bit left of field, I know”); and what did he like to eat for breakfast (“toast – with usually just butter on it, but this morning’s toast had lemon curd on it” – which prompted a gasp among the audience)?