Author: Kal

Bishop Andrew’s Christmas Message 2021

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.

New Cathedral Youth Club “a joy to behold” says Dean

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.

Emergency Services acknowledged at Carol Service in St Columb’s Cathedral

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.

Charity begins at home for St Canice’s parishioners

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.

Columba 1500 Service

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.

Global Day 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.”

Remembrance Sunday 2021

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.

Freedom Event for Young People

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)?

Raphoe Installation Service

A new chapter was written on Thursday 4th November, 2021, in the centuries-long history of St Eunan’s Cathedral in Raphoe, when the Rev Canon Judi McGaffin was installed as a member of the Cathedral Chapter. In succeeding Rev Canon Dr Bill Long, who retired last March, the Bishop’s Curate-in-Charge of the Fahan Group of Parishes became the first ever female member of the Raphoe Cathedral Chapter.

Bishop Andrew Forster told the restricted congregation at Thursday’s Service of Installation that when he telephoned the new canon, last May, with news of her appointment, Canon McGaffin was struck dumb. “I am one of the few people who can ever say that they made Judi McGaffin speechless. You know how Judi always has something to say? Whenever I asked her to be a canon of the Cathedral, I thought the phone line had gone dead for a few seconds.”

At the time of her appointment, Canon McGaffin became only the second female canon in the history of the Diocese of Derry and Raphoe (in June last year, Rev Canon Katie McAteer had been installed as a canon of St Columb’s Cathedral, Londonderry).

Bishop Andrew described the Installation as a “momentous” evening for the Diocese as they gathered to celebrate Rev Judi and her ministry. “We treasure you and we honour you tonight, and we want you to know that you are a blessing to all of us.”

In his sermon, the preacher, Rev Adam Pullen, saluted the new canon’s passionate advocacy on behalf of people with disabilities, her support for the many victims of the mica crisis in Donegal and her work with other denominations in Inishowen and beyond.

Rev Pullen said the first reading, from Isaiah 61: vs 1-4 and 8-11, gave him hope and gave him heart that [ours] was a God of peace, of love and of justice, “who seeks the welfare of the least, the last, the lost, the widow and the orphan, and I know that that very much chimes with your heart, too, Judi.”

Thursday’s service was led by the Archdeacon of Raphoe, Ven. David Huss, who was assisted by Canon Harry Gilmore and Diocesan Registrar Canon David Crooks. Also present was the Dean of Derry, Very Rev Raymond Stewart. Music for the service was provided by the church organist, Mrs Renee Goudie. Members of Canon McGaffin’s family, and parishioners from Fahan and Buncrana, were in church for the historic occasion.

Omagh Church Celebrates 150th Birthday

The Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev Andrew Forster, has paid tribute to the generation of worshippers in Omagh who were so confident in their faith and in God that at a time of great uncertainty for the Church of Ireland, they proceeded to build a new church, St Columba’s, in the heart of the town a century and a half ago.

We have forgotten how turbulent those times were, Bishop Andrew said, in his sermon to the current generation of parishioners in Drumragh, as they gathered On Sunday evening, 24th October 2021, to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the opening of St Columba’s Church. “150 years ago, this year,” the Bishop said, “the government decided ‘in their wisdom – and it was absolutely in their wisdom’ – that the Church of Ireland would no longer be the established church of the nation and that it would have to stand on its own two feet.”

It was, Bishop Forster said, a shock of seismic proportions. ‘’They didn’t know whether we would still be here in 10 years or 20 years. They thought we might struggle and disappear. And do you know what happened 150 years ago, whenever we were going through that time? The good people of Drumragh said we are confident: we are confident in our church; we are confident in our community; and, more than all of these, we are confident in almighty God, and we will build a church that will serve generations to come. And tonight, we celebrate the faith of that generation all those years ago.”

Bishop Andrew said the two great churches of County Tyrone, St Columba’s in Omagh and St Anne’s in Dungannon – in which both he and the Rector of Drumragh, Rev Graham Hare, had served – were both built during those days. “Two great churches that stand on hills, and now, this church, lit up for the whole town to see, saying to the world that we are here, that Jesus Christ says, ‘I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.”

During the service, which was led by Rev Hare, the Bishop dedicated the church’s new internal and external lighting. He reminded the congregation that fifteen hundred years ago, their patronal saint, Columba, was born in Gartan in Donegal. The riches of his birth family meant nothing to Columba when he discovered the riches of faith in Jesus Christ. He built his favourite monastery on the site of St Augustine’s Church on Derry’s walls and from there he planted many other monasteries.

“What was his vision in planting monasteries?”, the Bishop asked. “He saw them, first of all, as places of community in a fractured time. He saw them as places of prayer in a spiritual wilderness. He saw them as places of worship that saw the beauty that God had given around them and the beauty of his love for them. He saw them as places of support for those who were floundering in life. And ultimately, he saw them as places of mission, places of Good News for the Gospel, to share it in the community.

“Now, you are named after him, and your parish can follow his example, because, let me tell you, your parish has followed his example – and will continue to – to be a place of community, where people know they are loved; know they are accepted; to be a place of prayer in the wilderness of this world around us; to be a place of worship.”

Bishop Andrew said people often remarked that churches were just bricks and mortar – and they were right – but for him and other members of his family, their home church of St Philip and St James, in Holywood, was much more than that. “St Columba’s, for you, is much more than bricks and mortar, because you can chart your own spiritual history through this church; you can chart your family’s journey through this church; you can think of the prayers which you have offered God in this place; the worship you have given to Him in this place; and for you it is much, much more than bricks and mortar.

“Let’s be the generation who make sure that the people of this town, of this community, discover this place so that it will be much, much more to them than just bricks and mortar. It will be a place of family, of prayer, of worship, of support, and of mission.

“This is a beautiful church, a church that has stood sentinel over this town through some of the most difficult days any of us have lived through; a church that has stood sentinel over this town in some of the most important moments of your lives; and this is a church that will continue to do that because Jesus Christ says, ‘I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.’

“Tonight, we celebrate this beautiful place, this hallowed place, hallowed in the prayers of its children down through the years, hallowed in the example of its patron saint, hallowed in the worship offered to God here, Sunday by Sunday.”

During the service, Bishop Forster cut a large birthday cake which had been baked specially for the occasion. The Rector, Rev Hare, said COVID restrictions meant that numbers at the service, and at other commemorative services and events earlier in the week, had to be restricted. Like those events, this evening’s service complied with COVID guidelines, as did the celebratory supper afterwards in the nearby parish hall.