Author: Paul McFadden

Derry and Raphoe MU “leading the way” in churches’ response to domestic violence

Members of Mothers’ Union groups from throughout the Diocese of Derry and Raphoe gathered in St Columb’s Cathedral, on Saturday 26th November, for a service to mark the organisation’s ‘16 Days’ Global Day of Action – which is the highpoint of MU’s campaign against gender-based violence.

Over the sixteen day period from Friday the 25th of November until Saturday the 10th of December, Mothers’ Union globally is raising awareness of, and calling for an end to, gender-based violence in all forms and in all societies.

The service was led by the Dean of Derry, Very Rev Raymond Stewart, who was assisted by the Diocesan Chaplain of MU, Rev Liz Fitzgerald and Rev Andrea Cotter. Among those in the congregation were the Deputy Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District, Cllr Angela Dobbins, and the Deputy Lieutenant for County Londonderry, Lady Girvan, who is a strong supporter of Mothers’ Union.

It’s estimated that a third of women worldwide suffer domestic or sexual abuse, prompting MU’s call for ‘#No more1in3’. While men and women can both be victims of gender-based violence, statistics show that women and girls are particularly at risk.

The congregation, which was comprised largely of women, was told that domestic violence was a crime and that tackling cultural attitudes was the responsibility of men and boys, as well as women and girls.

The guest speak was the author and editor of Vox Magazine, Ruth Garvey-Williams, who has investigated experiences, perceptions and attitudes surrounding domestic abuse across churches in Ireland. Ms Garvey-Williams thanked Derry and Raphoe Mothers’ Union for “leading the way in the church on this island” in responding to domestic violence.

The Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev Andrew Forster, described Mothers’ Union as “a stone in the shoe” that was helping the church to look out and support and advocate for victims of domestic violence. Bishop Andrew said the Diocesan President, Jacqui Armstrong, had been at the forefront of that work and thanked her for being “a voice for the voiceless”.

During the service, the congregation stood in silence for a period of three minutes, during which they prayed and reflected. Roberta Merrick lit a candle at the front of the Cathedral as a symbol of the light of Christ shining through the darkness of abuse. Rev Andrea Cotter shared with the congregation about a new course which Mothers’ Union has developed, in conjunction with Bishops’ Appeal and Tearfund, to counteract domestic abuse and gender-based violence. Readings at the service were delivered by Rev Fitzgerald, Dean Stewart, Jean Thompson, Eva Wright, Irene Hewitt, Ger West, Kay Clarke (Diocesan Vice-President) and Janice Quigley.

Special guest graces launch of St Canice’s Nativity Festival

The Rector of St Canice’s Church in Eglinton got robed for a special service, on Friday morning (December 2, 2022), but not in his usual garb. Rev Canon Paul Hoey, and Rector’s Churchwarden Elaine Way, dressed as Mary and Joseph for the launch of the parish’s three-day Nativity Festival. And they were joined by a special guest, Penelope the donkey, who was brought to St Canice’s by local parishioner Alison Leighton.

Parishioners and the wider community can call into the church over the three days of the event to see dozens of nativity scenes which have been created by local people. Visitors will have an opportunity to vote for their favourite depiction of the nativity.

The Festival began with an opening service at 10am on Friday morning, during which the choir of Eglinton Primary School performed a number of Christmas favourites. The Rector wore a Christmas jumper for the occasion.

Donations from the festival will be shared with two charities, ‘Jennifer’s Journey’ and the Simon Community, and some will also go towards the proposed new parish centre. St Canice’s has a number of other activities planned for the Advent season, as well, including the Altnagelvin Hospital Choir Carol Service, which will take place in the church on Tuesday 6th December at 7pm.

Church leaders meet President Higgins

The Leaders the of the Church of Ireland, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Methodist and Presbyterian Churches in Ireland met the President of Ireland, Michael D Higgins, today at Áras an Uachtaráin in Dublin.

Afterwards, the Church Leaders issued the following statement:

“We were delighted to accept the President’s invitation and very much welcomed the opportunity to spend time with him in what has been a focussed, but relaxed and informal conversation across a wide range of issues. The context for today’s meeting was our shared commitment to reconciliation and peacebuilding on the island of Ireland. While recognising the obvious challenges, we acknowledged that the important and vital work of peace is still an unfinished work, but one we are all committed to actively pursuing for the common good of all the people of Ireland.

“We were also keen to discuss together the difficult economic situation and its impact across the island. At the same time we spoke of its wider international implications, especially for the Global South, when coupled with the devastating effects of climate change and famine, including in the Horn of Africa, which is particularly close to the President’s heart.

“At the start of this Advent Season, when as disciples of Jesus Christ we look forward to celebrating the arrival of the Prince of Peace, it was positive and worthwhile to meet with the President and his wife Sabina today.”

Attending today’s meeting were the Rt Rev Andrew Forster, President of the Irish Council of Churches (and Church of Ireland Bishop of Derry and Raphoe); the Rt Rev Dr John Kirkpatrick, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland; the Most Rev John McDowell, Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of all Ireland; the Most Rev Eamon Martin, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of all Ireland; and the Rev David Nixon, President of the Methodist Church in Ireland.

Also in attendance were the Co–Secretaries of the Church Leaders’ Group (Ireland) – the Rev Trevor Gribben, Clerk of the General Assembly and General Secretary of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland; and the Rev Dr Heather Morris, General Secretary of the Methodist Church in Ireland.

The Church Leaders Group comprises the Church of Ireland and Roman Catholic Primates of All Ireland, the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, the President of the Methodist Church in Ireland and the President of the Irish Council of Churches.

MU’s vocal opposition to domestic violence recognised

The impact of Mothers’ Union’s ’16 Days’ campaign in Ireland was acknowledged, recently, when MU’s Worldwide President, Sheran Harper, made a presentation to the President of Derry and Raphoe Mothers’ Union, Jacqui Armstrong, in recognition of her work – and MU’s – to counter domestic and gender-based violence. The presentation took place in St Macartin’s Cathedral, in Enniskillen during Ms Harper’s visit to Ireland.

The citation on the award reads: ‘Presented to Mothers’ Union in the Province of Ireland, in appreciation of your exceptional work in combatting gender-based violence through advocacy, prayer and practical matters. Mothers’ Union #nomore1in3. Presented by Sheran Harper, Worldwide President.’

Following the Service, Jacqui said: “I am delighted to accept it [the award] on behalf of the various teams that have worked so hard and so consistently to bring the scourge of domestic abuse and gender-based violence to the fore in our dioceses across Ireland.”

This year, the ‘16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence’ campaign begins on Friday the 25th of November and continues until Saturday the 10th of December. Throughout the 16-day period, Mothers’ Union members locally will be joining with fellow members and supporters, globally, to raise awareness of, and call for an end to, gender-based violence in all forms and in all societies.

Saturday 26th November, has been designated ’16 Days Global Day of Action’ – the highlight of MU’s annual campaign. The occasion will be marked with a short Service of Prayer and Reflection in St Columb’s Cathedral, Londonderry beginning at 12.45pm. The speaker will be Ruth Garvey-Williams who has undertaken a study across churches in Ireland in relation to experiences, perceptions and attitudes surrounding domestic abuse. All are welcome to attend.

Remembrance Sunday “most solemn day of our annual calendar” says Bishop Andrew

The words ‘God save our gracious King!’ rang out around the war memorial in the centre of Londonderry, this morning, for the first time in over 70 years, as local people gathered to remember servicemen and women who had died in past conflicts. The Rev Canon John Merrick, from St Columb’s Cathedral, led the Service of Remembrance in the Diamond, where he was joined by leaders of the four main Churches locally: the General Secretary of the Methodist Church, Rev Canon Dr Heather Morris; the Moderator of the Derry and Donegal Presbytery, Rev Graeme Orr; the Bishop of Derry, Most Rev Dr Donal McKeown; and the Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev Andrew Forster.

Among those who laid wreaths at the cenotaph were the King’s Vice Lord -Lieutenant for the County Borough of Londonderry, Ian Crowe; the High Sheriff for the County Borough of Londonderry, Paul Howie; East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell; Foyle MLA Gary Middleton; and members of Derry City and Strabane District Council.

After the ceremony, the Dean of Derry, Very Rev Raymond Stewart, led a Service of Remembrance and Thanksgiving at St Columb’s Cathedral, which was attended by the Vice Lord -Lieutenant; the Deputy Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District, Cllr Angela Dobbins; and the High Sheriff for the Borough.

During the Service, wreaths were laid at the Cathedral’s war memorial, followed by the playing of The Last Post.

The sermon was delivered by the Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev Andrew Forster, who described Remembrance Sunday as the “most solemn day of our annual calendar”. Bishop Andrew said he, personally, was remembering three people in particular: one grandfather, who served in. the First World War with the King’s Westminster Rifles; another grandfather, who served in the Home Guard during the Second World War; and a late uncle who served with distinction in the Royal Ulster Constabulaary.

The Bishop said the congregation’s remembrance was more than some annual, formal duty. “Rather,” he said, “it is a heartfelt obligation borne of admiration and borne of love, as in our remembrance – in some very small way – we pay the debt we owe to those who served us and those who paid the ultimate sacrifice that ensured that we can do what we do today, and live our everyday lives in peace and freedom.”

At the beginning of today’s Service, Dean Stewart informed the congregation that one of his predecessors as Dean of Derry and Rector of the Parish of Templemore, Very Rev Cecil Orr, had passed away on Friday evening and would be buried on Tuesday following a Funeral Service in Saint Columb’s Cathedral.

Poppy net ‘launched’ in Ballykelly

The King’s Lord-Lieutenant for County Londonderry, Mrs Alison Millar, has formally launched the Parish of Tamlaghtfinlagan’s four-day long Festival of Remembrance in Ballykelly.

It was standing room only in St Findluganus’ Church as the Rector, Rev Canon Harold Given, led the festival’s Opening Service at which music was provided by the North-West Choir. Canon Given welcomed the congregation, which included members of the Armed Forces past and present.

The highlight of the evening was the dramatic ‘launch’ of the parish’s ‘Poppy Net’, which is made up of thousands of woollen poppies knitted and crocheted by Tamlaghtfinlagan parishioners, people in the wider Ballykelly community and members of parishes throughout the Diocese. The poppy net, which is suspended from the church tower, measures almost 19 metres in length. It was inspired by the ceramic poppy installation at the Tower of London, in 2018, which marked the centenary of the ending of the First World War.

After Thursday evening’s service, Mrs Millar – who was accompanied by the Lord-Lieutenant’s Cadet for the County of Londonderry, Cadet Chris Johnston, Royal Artillery – planted a rowan tree in front of the church. It was one of only 300 Queen’s Canopy trees distributed throughout the UK to mark the late sovereign’s Platinum Jubilee. The tree was presented to the parish last month and came in a pot bearing Her Late Majesty ‘s cypher. The Lord-Lieutenant was assisted in the tree-planting ceremony by one of Tamlaghtfinlagan’s longest-attending parishioners, Mr Albert Hepburn.

The Festival Of Remembrance will continue until 6pm on Sunday evening. Collection buckets will be in place in the church and hall throughout the event, and donations – in aid of the Poppy Appeal and Church Funds – will be much appreciated. The parish’s annual Remembrance Service will take place at 10.45am on Sunday morning.

(NOTE: The daylight photographs of Tamlaghtfinlagan Parish Church and the poppy net were kindly provided by Nigel McFarland.)

Archbishop of Armagh calls for balanced decisions in moment of difficulty for Northern Ireland

A statement from the Most Revd John McDowell, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland:

‘A few months ago, I wrote an article in the Belfast Telegraph pointing out that the difficulties arising from Brexit, the Northern Ireland Protocol and the looming cost of living crisis were coming together to create a moment of real jeopardy for these islands and for Northern Ireland in particular. I had also suggested that working together, rather than pushing for more extreme remedies, would provide the basis of a longer-term solution and longer-term relationships.

‘I mentioned then, that there were people of ill will who, insofar as they represent anything, represent drug dealers and extortionists, whose only contribution to civic life is to exploit people’s fears and concerns at a time of crisis. Although such people may fly under old paramilitary flags of convenience, they are simply criminal gangs, seeking to shore up their influence in the communities which they terrorise. They form no part of a democratic society, nor are they part of the democratic culture which is the foundation of all stable democracies. “Sound and fury, signifying nothing” as the world’s greatest dramatist reminds us.

‘At a time of such sensitivity, it is of ultimate importance that those in government or in any elected office distinguish which voices (no matter how forcefully reasoned) carry a sense of responsibility and hope, and those which offer only unprovoked malice and fear. Not only what we decide and do, but the voices we listen to in arriving at our decisions mark us out as either an evolving, civilised society or a morally empty and broken polity.’


Late Queen’s “significant contribution” to peace building recalled

The Late Queen Elizabeth II’s “significant” contribution to reconciliation and peace building in Ireland was recalled on Thursday evening, 29th September, at a service in Londonderry. The tribute was paid by the Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev Andrew Forster, in his sermon at a diocesan and civic Service of Reflection and Thanksgiving for The Life of the Late Queen, which was held in St Columb’s Cathedral.

The service was led by the Dean of Derry, Very Rev Raymond Stewart, and leaders from the four main local Christian denominations took part. During the service, His Majesty’s Lord Lieutenant for the County of Londonderry, Mrs Alison Millar, and His Majesty’s Vice Lord Lieutenant for the County Borough of Londonderry, Mr Ian Crowe MBE, jointly lit a candle in an act of commemoration.

Bishop Andrew told the congregation that St Columb’s Cathedral was the oldest building within the City Walls and that among its many historical treasures – “padlocks and cannon balls, bibles and chalices, prayer books and paintings” – was a visitors’ book, signed by King George and Queen Elizabeth and their daughter, the then-Princess Elizabeth, in 1945, when they flew to Northern Ireland during a V. E. tour and visited the Cathedral for prayers of thanksgiving for deliverance from war.

In remembering the Late Queen, Bishop Andrew evoked a prayer of Saint Columba’s. “This evening, we give thanks to God for a life marked by duty, service and devotion, and all of us recognise that Her Late Majesty’s long life was motivated by and empowered by her faith in God. For her, as it can be for each one of us, God truly was ‘a kindly shepherd behind me, today, tonight and forever’.”

Bishop Andrew said the late Queen’s faith had been a key factor in her peace building. “I’m sure all of us would understand and believe that it was her faith that both inspired and compelled her to make such a significant contribution to peace and mutual understanding in this island. She showed us that seemingly small steps can open the door of significant engagement and change – a handshake, a few words in another language, the crossing of a street – it was an example, an inspiration for us and for others to take large steps, important steps, to realise that reconciliation matters. And I wonder what [are] those small steps in her example that we can make to make our community a better place?

“In 2014, reflecting on some of her work in peace building, she said this: ‘For me the life of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, is an inspiration and an anchor for my life, a role model of reconciliation and forgiveness. He stretched out his hands in love, acceptance and healing, and Christ’s example has taught me to respect and value all people of whatever faith and none.’

“Do you know, in this city that we all love, no matter what our background or story is, and in this county that we all love, we are seeking to write a better history, a new history, not defined by division and distrust but built on reconciliation and peace building. And we have to realise and to understand that peace and reconciliation is a very delicate thing, to be handled carefully, to be underpinned – as the Queen said – by respect and value of all people.

“And as we gather tonight to reflect and give thanks for Queen Elizabeth, it would be good for each of us to reflect on the example that she was in this land and ask ourselves how we follow that example in our everyday life? I think Queen Elizabeth inspires us to continue to play our part in society. And she shows us that characteristics such as duty, service and devotion should never go out of fashion.

“Sometimes those words are seen to be old-fashioned and ‘out of touch’. Duty, devotion and service have been shown in the life of the Queen to build a better society. When we respond to the call for duty to God and our community, to service to both neighbour and stranger, to devotion to Christ and to his will, we build a better society. That’s what Queen Elizabeth calls us to do and that will be her lasting legacy in this land and much further afield.”

Synod remembers Creeslough victims

The shadow of the Creeslough tragedy loomed large over the Derry and Raphoe Diocesan Synod, on Wednesday 12th October, as people remembered the victims and prayed for those affected by last Friday’s disaster, which claimed the lives of 10 people.

Before delivering his Presidential Address, to the diocese’s first ‘in person’ synod in three years, Rt Rev Andrew Forster, reflected on the events of recent days which had brought heartbreak to Donegal.

Bishop Andrew told delegates that he hadn’t expected to be uplifted in Creeslough, when he visited the village on Saturday, and yet, as bleak and desperate as the situation was there, there were “remarkable shoots of love and tenderness breaking through, which touched the heart”. As the Bishop spoke, one of the victims, James O’Flaherty, was being laid to rest in Derrybeg.

“I am mindful,” Bishop Forster said, “that as we gather and prepare to conduct the business of the diocese, and do the routine but necessary work required to keep the wheels of diocesan life turning, there are people and there is a community not very far from here for whom ‘normal life’ has been shattered and put on hold. I am referring, of course, to the people of Creeslough and other parts of Donegal whose lives were visited by tragedy last Friday.

“Ten people died following an explosion at the local service station. Shauna and Robert, Leona, Hugh, Jessica, Martin, James, Martina, Catherine and James. Their ages ranged from 5 to 59. The victims included a mother and son, and a father and daughter.

“I was in Creeslough, on Saturday, with my good friend Bishop Alan McGuckian. I was there long enough to see the rescue operation become a recovery operation as the last vestiges of hope were extinguished for waiting relatives. The pain of that will stay with me forever.

“As followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to be people of hope and are called to spread the Good News of Christ’s resurrection. And good news has been thin on the ground, recently, but we are people of God’s hope.

“I certainly didn’t expect to be uplifted in Creeslough. And yet, as bleak and desperate as the situation was in the village, there were remarkable shoots of love and tenderness breaking through, which touched the heart: the remarkable compassion and warmth and generosity of the good people of that village; the grim determination of rescue workers – including neighbours – who defied exhaustion in the search for victims and survivors; the prodigious effort put in by the emergency services – firefighters, paramedics and ambulance crews – as they went about their duties in the most challenging of circumstances; and the sheer professionalism and sensitivity shown by gardai. Most impressive and humbling and indeed heartbreaking of all was the dignity and the faith of some of the relatives I spent time with.

“God’s love is honed by pain and, no matter how dark the morning may be, the light of his love is never extinguished. And as the Creeslough families lay their loved ones to rest – there are three funerals today – I hope they come to see and know clearly the light of God’s love deep within their lives.

“Two of our clergy are not here today because they are attending the funerals of victims of Friday’s tragedy: Rev Liz Fitzgerald, the Bishop’s Curate in the Gweedore Group of Parishes, and the Rev David Skuce – David is the Rural Dean – the parish in which Creeslough is is vacant at the moment and David has been giving support to that parish group.

“David was there through most of the night, on Friday – after the explosion – and most of Saturday, giving comfort and support. Yesterday evening, I spoke to Bishop McGuckian and he commented to me about the support that David has been to the people most directly affected, and said that he was a tower of strength to the clergy who are conducting funerals at this time.

Ladies and gentlemen, all of us are struck by the randomness of such a terrible and awful disaster – and it is truly a disaster. I would ask you all to stand, now, as we observe a moment’s silence.”

After the period of silence, Bishop Andrew shared a prayer for those affected by the Creeslough tragedy.

“Almighty God, father of all mercies and giver of all comfort, deal graciously, we pray, with those who mourn. Casting all their care on you, they may know the consolation of your love. Give faith and comfort, O Lord, to the bereaved of Creeslough. Strengthen them to meet the days to come with steadfastness and patience, not sorrowing as those without hope but in thankful remembrance of your mercy in the past and waiting for a joyful reunion in Heaven. We remember, today, those who this day, at this moment, are laying to rest loved ones. We pray for the clergy who are bringing care and comfort, most especially for Father John Joe Duffy, the local priest in Creeslough, and Bishop Alan McGuckian and the Rev David Skuce. In times of darkness, help us to see your light; in times of pain, may we know your healing balm; and in times of despair, help us to hold fast to your hope. This we ask in the name of the one who died for us and rose again, Jesus Christ, Our Lord, Amen.”

Later in the day, at Synod, one of the Honorary Secretaries, Bill Arnold – a parishioner in Dunfanaghy – which is about 10 kilometres from Creeslough – was given permission by the Bishop to address delegates about the tragedy.

“On Friday, when we heard the news,” Mr Arnold said, “everybody was in shock. We are one community. Dunfanaghy and Creeslough are inter-linked in so many ways: through a doctor’s surgery, football clubs, family relationships. I just want to thank the emergency services for their work, and the volunteers. The Church of Ireland has played a big part in that, both among the volunteers and also through the Rural Dean, my Rector, the Rev David Skuce.

“The Bishop has said he [Rev Skuce] was there most of Friday night and all Saturday, comforting people, along with Father John Joe Duffy, who is a personal friend of mine. On Saturday, I met Father John Joe. It was all I could do just to give him a big hug. Sometimes,” Mr Arnold said, “words don’t allow you to express your feelings. That was the only way I could do it. I attended two of the funerals yesterday and it was one of the hardest things – I was in tears – especially at the one in the morning, which I found more difficult than the one in the afternoon.”

Mr Arnold paid tribute to the prayerful and compassionate way in which Bishop Andrew had spoken on the media in the aftermath of Friday’s tragedy. “We’re so proud to have such a caring Bishop,” he said, drawing applause from delegates.

“Just to end on a positive note, if there is a positive note,” Mr Arnold continued, “the Republic of Ireland Women’s soccer team has qualified now for the World Cup in Australia – that’s a great achievement in itself – but the winning goal was scored by a Donegal woman who came on as substitute, she’s actually from Milforr, Amber Barrett.

“Amber Barrett’s grandparents are from Creeslough and she goes there quite regularly and I thought it was a lovely touch when she got down on her knees – in honour of the victims of Creeslough – and she just put her arm on her black armband. Some of you may’ve heard her on the radio this morning, and she spoke with dignity and humility. It was a great credit to her.”

Church of Ireland statement on Creeslough tragedy

A Joint Statement from the Archbishop of Armagh, The Most Revd John McDowell; the Archbishop of Dublin, The Most Revd Dr Michael Jackson; and the Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, The Right Revd Andrew Forster following the tragedy in the village of Creeslough, in County Donegal, in which 10 people lost their lives.

“On behalf of Church of Ireland people across this island, we wish to express our sympathy to all who have been bereaved as a result of the tragedy in Creeslough, in County Donegal. Our hearts also go out to those who have been injured and to their families, along with the assurance of our prayers in the weeks to come. May all who have been affected in any way by the tragedy know the presence of the God of all comfort very near to them.”

Bishop Andrew spent much of the morning and early afternoon in the village of Creeslough, along with the Bishop of Raphoe, Most Rev Alan McGuckian. The two church leaders met relatives who had lost loved ones, emergency and rescue service workers, and local people who had helped in the rescue effort.

Ten people were killed in the explosion which demolished a filling station and a number of apartments in the village on Friday afternoon. A teenage boy and girl, and a girl of primary school age were among those who lost their lives. Four men and three women also died.

Eight people were taken to hospital for treatment, including one person who has been transferred to a Dublin burns unit.