Author: Paul McFadden

15th Lambeth Conference begins

Bishop Andrew Forster is one of the hundreds of bishops from across the 165 countries of the Anglican Communion who’ve gathered in Canterbury to pray, study scripture, discuss global challenges and seek God’s direction for the decade ahead.

The Lambeth Conference 2022, which runs until August 7, is only the 15th such global gathering of Anglican bishops in 155 years. The event was postponed from 2020 because of the Covid 19 pandemic and takes place against a backdrop of global uncertainty, including the climate emergency, war and poverty.

Taking as their theme “God’s Church for God’s World”, the bishops will spend time praying and studying the Bible together (focussing on the book of 1 Peter) as well as discussing major challenges faced by their global communities – ranging from climate change and scientific progress to Christian unity and inter-faith relations.

In a letter to delegates, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, described the conference as an “historic occasion” and spoke of Jesus’ call for his followers to be united. The Archbishop wrote: “Two years ago, we could hardly have believed the course of world events that was about to unfold with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This, along with the ongoing challenges like the climate emergency, war and conflict in many countries and the huge inequalities of our world, continue to have a deep impact on us all.

“As we gather for the 15th Lambeth Conference, the privilege and responsibility of meeting feels even more significant.

“The business of this conference is to discern the Holy Spirit’s directing in what it means to be ‘God’s Church for God’s World’, as we seek to ‘walk, listen and witness together.’

“We are living at a time where there is much to fragment and divide the world – but Christ calls his Church to be one in witness and in worship so that Jesus is presented to the world.”

Archbishop Welby went on to describe how 1 Peter sets out how the early Christian Church faced “suffering, despair, joy, exile and alienation”, adding: “As we embark upon our journey together in 2022, we pray for God’s Holy Spirit to guide us, as we seek God’s will for the global witness of the Anglican Communion in the decade ahead.”

In his foreword to the Conference guide, Archbishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon, Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, wrote: “The drumbeat to our conference is ‘walking, listening and witnessing together’.

“These words reflect perhaps Christ’s greatest challenge to the Church: to be one; to live as a united body, in service to Christ and to one another.

“As we gather in 2022, may we commit ourselves to this significant moment as an opportunity to listen to one another, learn from the diversity of our communities and church experiences and seek to serve one another.”

The postponement in 2020 enabled the Conference plans to be reimagined as a three-phase process, designed to create lasting outcomes pboth for the churches of the Communion and for the communities they serve.

The period since 2020 has been a time of “walking together” when bishops have been meeting together for online conversations about themes relevant to the Conference.

The phase of “listening together” is the full event in Canterbury which began yesterday. For the first time there will also be a further phase of “witnessing together” – when outcomes from the bishop’s conversations are shared, and further action taken around the Anglican Communion.

‘It’s Madness out there’

The torrential rain relented in Portglenone, early this afternoon, and the heavy clouds above Our Lady of Bethlehem Abbey parted just in time for the Derry and Raphoe BBQ to proceed as planned at this year’s Summer Madness festival in County Antrim.

Bishop Andrew Forster was ‘mine host’ for the occasion, which brought back happy memories for him and his wife, Heather, of past Summer Madness festivals they’d visited with their children years before they came to Derry and Raphoe.

Summer Madness is described by its organisers as Ireland’s “premier Christian youth festival”. Around two dozen young people from the diocese made their way to this year’s event to celebrate, connect and explore the significance of faith in their culture and community. They were accompanied by a raft of adult leaders who were there to ensure that their charges remained safe and got the maximum possible enjoyment from the experience.

The Diocesan Youth Officer, Claire Hinchliff, was on barbecue duty with Bishop Andrew, along with Pauline Beadle, whose husband was recently appointed as the new Rector of Donagheady. Pauline said after the appointment that she loved cooking and that her happy place could be any kitchen. Today she had to make do with a tent and a grill.

For the Bishop, it was a chance to show off the culinary skills he’d first revealed at the ‘Can’t Cook, Won’t Cook’ event in Macosquin a couple of months earlier. He was assisted by Claire, who looked after the technical side of the barbecue; the chairman of Derry and Raphoe Youth, Rev Peter Ferguson; and the Diocesan Children’s Officer, Kirsty McCartney, who brought her niece in tow.  

The smoke from the grills wafted above nearby tents drawing the hungry Derry and Raphoe contingent, and assorted visitors from other dioceses, to the Derry and Raphoe tents in short order. There were no complaints as the young people feasted on burgers, chicken kebabs and sausages – even Simon Henry, the Church of Ireland’s National Youth Officer, fetched up to sample the fare and pronounce the barbecue a big success.  

Local parishes to pilot new course tackling domestic abuse

Three parishes from the Diocese of Derry and Raphoe will be among the first in Ireland to take part in a new course which Mothers’ Union has helped develop to counteract domestic abuse and gender-based violence.

The five-part programme was developed in conjunction with Bishops’ Appeal and Tearfund. The Diocesan President of MU, Jacqui Armstrong – who was heavily involved in its preparation – says the new course will be rolled out in September, with volunteers from five parishes (including three from this diocese) taking part in the pilot.

Ms Armstrong says participants will attend five sessions which will offer a global view of gender-based violence, an analysis of the problem in Ireland (north and south), a look at the support available in local communities for tackling the problem, the role of advocacy in addressing domestic abuse and provide advice on tackling cultural attitudes.

The Rector of Drumragh with Mountfield, Rev Graham Hare, who was involved in the first pilot for the course, last January, said the experience had shown him how he had underestimated the scale and prevalence of domestic violence. He urged fellow clergy to “open their eyes and open their hearts” to the issue. “What is the church,” he asked, “if it’s not a refuge?”

Bishop Andrew Forster has commended the new course to parishes throughout Derry and Raphoe, urging rectors to begin delivering it. “Let’s really go for this,” he said, “so that we in this diocese take the lead in tackling, educating, supporting and advocating on this issue.”

Ms Armstrong presented Bishop Andrew with a copy of the manual for the new course, “hot off the press”. She told clergy: “It sounds like a difficult subject – and it is a difficult subject.” MU hopes to deliver two more courses in the autumn, in addition to September’s pilot. Ms Armstrong suggested that parishes which sign up should be represented by their rector and at least two or three lay people.

‘Landmark moment’ for Parish of Donegal, says Bishop Andrew

Bishop Andrew Forster described the 300th anniversary of Donegal Parish as “a landmark moment” in the local congregation’s history. He was speaking in Donegal Parish Church during the second of two services, this morning, which marked the tercentenary.

Half an hour earlier, the Bishop had joined the local Rector, Archdeacon David Huss, members of the church and friends of the parish at a short service of prayer and worship on the site of the original parish church, which was built in 1722 and now lies in ruins beside the ancient abbey in Donegal Town. Among those gathered were the Mayor of Donegal Town, Pauric Kennedy, Sinn Féin County Councillor, Noel Jordan, and Fr Pearse Mullen.

Archdeacon Huss said, during the first service, that the old church was “a very special place” for the community. The adjoining cemetery had been used to bury people of various denominations, including some of the most famous people in the town’s history. Among those buried there, he said, were Rev Samuel Reid – the longest-serving Rector of Donegal – and his son-in-law, Alfred Banks, a doctor who had lost his life to typhus. “So, although a lot has changed,” Archdeacon Huss said, “a lot of things are the same, aren’t they? Pandemic, war and tragedy still are with us. And yet, as we read, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. So, as we come to these stones, which could tell many stories if they could speak, we also come to that living stone who is unchanging and it’s in that we trust.”

In his sermon, in the second service – during which he baptised baby Zoe Alcorn – Bishop Andrew invited the congregation to give thanks for a parish which, in its three centuries of history, had witnessed the 1798 rebellion, “when French ships came right up the bay here, in Donegal, to invade and then turned back to make their way home; we think of our more recent history of civil war, independence, partition. And you look and see how God has led us through times of difficulty, times that were uncertain, to where we are today. So, we look back in thankfulness, we remember people of faith who have built a legacy, but as we look back, we are reminded that we are the labourers of a new generation to build for the future.”

Bishop Andrew reminded those present of the importance of family, not just their own kin but their ‘spiritual family’. The church building in which they gathered this morning – and which will celebrate its 200th anniversary in six years’ time – was much more to its congregation than bricks and mortar, much more to them than sand and stone and cement. “It’s the place where you come to celebrate new birth and to dedicate new birth into the hands of God, just as we did this morning with Zoe; it’s the place where you come in the high days of life – some of you celebrated your marriage right here; it’s the place where you come when heartache seems overwhelming – the saddest times of life are funerals; and it’s the place where you come, Sunday by Sunday, to praise God, to worship God, and that’s why a building like this becomes a hallowed space: it’s not just bricks and mortar, it’s much more than that, it’s history, it’s your tradition, it’s your family, and what happens within a space like this blesses your family and helps your family. For me, yes, of course, the church is a building that we love; it just becomes part of us, doesn’t it? It becomes part of the people who we are because it’s the place where your family and the family of God gather.”

Landmark moments were great in life, the Bishop suggested, and great in a parish’s history. “They help us to assess things, to be thankful for what’s happened in the past and to look ahead to the future – to dream dreams.” Bishop Andrew paid tribute to the group of men and women who, 300 years ago, dreamt a dream of having their own parish in Donegal Town, and to their successors who, 100 years later, dreamt the dream of building a new house of God.

“What are your dreams for your church family,” the Bishop asked, “what are your dreams of what this church family can look like?”

The Bishop compared the parish family to a ring of people holding hands and supporting one another. “What if we turned the circle around, still holding hands and supporting each other but looking out? Looking out to our society, looking out to our world in need, looking out to our world that is crying out for meaning? What if we looked forward by looking out – looking out with the good news of Christ – to share with those around us. Dream dreams of what that would mean for this parish. Dream dreams also for what that would mean for yourselves.”

Bishop Andrew reminded the congregation of what Saint Paul said in the New Testament reading (Galatians 5: 13-25): ‘…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.’”

Today’s worship was led by Archdeacon Huss, who told those present and watching online that it was the first time in three years that the four parishes in the Group had gathered together for a service. The Rector was assisted by Diocesan Reader Nuala Dudley. The Old and New Testament readings were delivered by children from the parish. Young people also led the prayers of thanksgiving and intercession for the church and the world. Music was provided by the parish choir and by harpist Valerie Frewen-Perri, who performed two pieces composed 300 years ago by JS Bach. After the service, the congregation were invited to enjoy refreshments and fellowship in the adjoining hall.

“How should the church speak?”

The following article by Archbishop John McDowell is published in today’s Belfast Telegraph in relation to the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland and the current political situation.

I can’t remember a more difficult or more polarised moment in Northern Ireland or in the relationships between the UK and Ireland over the past 20 years. The friction and the drama have many causes, but events have come together to create a moment of real jeopardy.

The issue which is acting as a symbol for wider community and international tension at the moment is the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland. The origins of the Protocol are relatively straightforward, but it has become fantastically complex in its development and the range of ills now being attributed to it, or threatened in consequence of it.

Very few people will have the time or the expert knowledge to master the detail of the Protocol. But it is, by its very objectives, tied to the 1998 Agreement. As such, it is a great pity that it has provoked a degree of partisanship which now seems to militate against a consensual outcome. But the debates around Brexit and the Protocol do not stray far from questions of peace, political stability or constitutional futures.

My own instinct is that it might be wiser at this time to reflect for a moment on how, as a society that has to live in this small space, we might approach the current challenges together, rather than choosing between what have become a rather rigid set of narratives and fixes.

As a disciple of Jesus Christ who also happens to be a Church Leader, the principal questions which I need to ask myself at this time are “how will what I do or say express my discipleship of Jesus Christ?” and “how will it contribute to the common good?”

Church Leaders are not party political figures nor are we the accredited representatives of any political community. I would guess that the majority of Church of Ireland people in Northern Ireland are unionists of one sort or another and most Church of Ireland people in the Republic of Ireland are broadly nationalist. Probably there is also a substantial minority (particularly) of under–40s in both jurisdictions who would class themselves as “neither” or

“other”. Fortunately there are a large number of elected representatives from political parties or political communities who are able and willing to speak for all these groups.

So as a Church Leader I do not speak for, with, or to the Church, or to broader society in that way. It is not for me as a Church Leader to parade the political affiliation of Church of Ireland people in those terms. In many ways, their political or constitutional affiliation is none of my business. This alignment of denominational and political affiliation has been a feature of our history and has only succeeded in making many in society suspicious of where the Church’s conclusive loyalty really lies. In doing so, it has impeded the Church’s usefulness in the world and has at times also cheapened the Gospel and its implications.

The God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ is not a Unionist or a Nationalist,

or a ‘Neither’. He is the Sovereign Lord of all peoples, a God of justice and generosity, who desires the good of all. For those of us whose churches are organised on an all–island basis, this is especially important to remember.

Brexit, the issue which created the need for a Protocol, has been undoubtedly divisive throughout the UK. Yet there is only one place where those divisions are seen as threatening violent disruption and social disintegration.

This is particularly so because shadowy groups who once had some electoral credibility, but who have now re–transitioned to their core competencies of drug dealing, extortion and oppressing their own communities, are trying to exert political pressure via their proxies. Perhaps it is important that opinion from the shadows is brought into the open; perhaps not. In any case, there will always be something of the night about it.

In contrast, in a functioning democratic society, the views expressed by trade bodies, academics,

businesspeople, and even church people, are necessarily heard – those whose purpose is simply to inform from a base of knowledge or evidence, rather than to campaign. It is vital that their freedom to speak is respected and protected.

Of course, nothing can stop the poisoned imaginations behind anonymous Twitter accounts, but there should be no place for sneering asides from public figures towards those whose evidence doesn’t align with a particular narrative. That leads only to a nervous discussion and a shrivelled public space.

Northern Ireland has always had an electoral democracy, but it has not always had a democratic culture. Democracy in its fullest sense, is not like parenthood, automatically passed on to the next generation. The fundamentals are easy to forget, not least around what other generations called

“civility”; fairness and transparency in public debate. It is an insidious form of barbarism to say that

“politics is a rough old game” and therefore “anything goes”. The web of relationships and internalised decencies which make good societies work is much easier to unravel than to knit.

Brexit and the Protocol will continue to affect different parts of these islands in different ways and to provoke different fears from different quarters. We need to be very careful about what we say and what we listen to in these matters. Above all, we need to focus on what is our common interest in the here and now so that we might avoid what would divide us even more painfully in the future.

The Most Revd John McDowell is the Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland.

‘Open Door’ ministry unveiled at Christ Church Londonderry

Christ Church Londonderry will be opened to the public on a daily basis from next week under its new ‘Open Door’ ministry. The initiative was unveiled informally, this week, when dozens of children from the Model Primary School visited the church along with their teachers.

Small groups of pupils were given short ‘guided tours’ of the building on Infirmary Road by the Rector, Archdeacon Robert Miller; the CCCMSP Group’s Pastoral Director, Rev Canon Katie McAteer; and Select Vestry members Jim Kelley and Irwin Thompson.

The pupils got a chance to test their learning skills by answering questions about the church as they made their way round the building. During their visit, they heard about Christ Church’s 200-year-old history, the stories behind its famous stained-glass windows and the background to the ornate carvings on the altar; quite a few of the children also took the opportunity to climb into the pulpit and experience what it felt like to be a preacher. 

Under the ‘Open Door’ initiative, the church will be open daily – “except, perhaps, on Christmas Day,” Jim suggested. “We want the building to be not just a congregational thing for the churchgoers, but [a building] for community use. 

“Ordinary people can come in and sit and meditate if they want,” Jim said, “it’s available for that purpose. But it’s also interesting from an historical point of view: from the First World War material we have; the windows are of national significance; we’ve got records here – we never sent them to Dublin, so they weren’t destroyed in the big fire in the 1920s – we’ve got all our records going back to 1801. We had a lady in last weekend, [who] knew that her grandparents were married here. We had the book out and she found them. ‘I don’t suppose my mum would be in here?’ We found her baptism – there were tears rolling down her face.”

Irwin delighted in sharing the stories behind the famous windows and pointed out some of the well-known names on a plaque commemorating local victims of the two World Wars. “Fifty people from this church died in the First World War,” he said, “out of the one hundred who left to fight in it, so half of them never came back. I was never fond of history at school, but the people’s stories fascinate me.”

Christ Church is already established as a venue for musical performances, but the Select Vestry has ambitious plans to reinstate the first Thursday recitals which were once a feature of life in the parish. The Vestry also intends to create an exhibition area in an under-used part of the church and to digitise parish records so they will be more easily available to historians and visitors – including from overseas.

“We’ve got an idea for some drama stuff, as well,” Jim says, “with the First World War. The Imperial War Museum is making grants available for that so we’re following that one up. And so it goes on. We’re just opening the doors and saying, ‘This can be used. It’s one of the biggest halls in town. We can use it for other things. We’ve got brilliant acoustics. Radio Three have used it [for broadcasting performances]. Barry Douglas comes to play the piano in here. Ruth McGinley performs here. So, it’s brilliant from that point of view.’

“To be perfectly frank, what we’re actually talking about is saying that we’ve been a sort of closed door, exclusive thing – because of circumstances, nobody’s fault, it’s been one of those things – and what we’re now saying is we’re a Christian community, and you can use it for community use, but you can also use it for religious purposes. If you need an act of faith in some way this is a place that you can use.”

The ‘Open Door’ project is itself, in a sense, an act of faith. Only five years ago, Christ Church was violated in a break-in, during which one of the stained-glass windows was smashed and extensive damage was caused to the church organ. So did Jim detect any hint of trepidation among his fellow Select Vestry members? “Not at all. The Select Vestry were enthusiastic and said, ‘Yes’. I’ve spoken to Bishop Andrew; to Bishop Donal across the road [in St Eugene’s Cathedral]; both of them said, ‘Great, go for it.’ Long Tower does it. Pennyburn does it. St Augustine’s is doing it. We’re doing it. So, the whole area now is raising its profile and we’ll just see what comes of it.” 

The ‘Open Door’ initiative goes public on Monday 27th June. From then on, the church will be open from 10.30am to 4pm, seven days a week. 

New Rector instituted in Maghera

The faces of the parishioners of Maghera and Killelagh were wreathed in smiles on Thursday evening as they welcomed the institution of their new Rector, Rev Jonathan Brown in St Lurach’s Church in Maghera. The new incumbent’s former parishioners, who had travelled all the way from Hillsborough for the occasion, looked less pleased, although they wished him well in his new ministry, conceding – generously and graciously – that in Rev Brown his new parishioners were getting “a good man”.

The Service of Institution marked the end of an eight-month vacancy following the resignation of the previous incumbent, Rev Terence Kerr.

Bishop Andrew Forster welcomed the congregation to a “special occasion for all of us – for the parishioners, for the diocese and most especially for Jonathan and Julie”. He said he and the congregation were looking forward to getting to know the new Rector better. “One of the things that everybody wants to find out from Jonathan Brown,” Bishop Andrew said, “is how come he looks so young?”

It was a good sign for the parishioners of Maghera and Killelagh, the Bishop suggested, that two of their former rectors had returned to St Lurach’s for the service. The Bishop said Rev Canon Ian McDonald and Archdeacon Robert Miller were delighted to come back. 

The sermon was preached by the Rev Canon Dr Bryan Follis, the Rector of Hillsborough Parish where Rev Brown had served as a curate. Dr Follis had chosen the first reading from Scripture, from Nehemiah 1:1-11. The congregation may have wondered, he said, how the passage – which was set in Babylon in 450 BC – could be relevant to a church and rector in Northern Ireland in 2022? The Bible was the word of God, he said; it had direct relevance for all God’s people, at all times and in all places. “It’s the word of God,” Dr Follis said, “and as such it’s supreme within our church in all matters of faith and conduct.”

The preacher said he wanted to focus on the insight the reading afforded into the person and character of Nehemiah, and apply that to Rev Brown and to his new parish. Nehemiah was a godly man, who made a significant impact for the Kingdom of God. “It wasn’t just projects; people mattered to Nehemiah.” Nehemiah was pastoral, prayerful and prophetic. He had a concern and a passion for those in need; he shared their pain and felt their pain. “Any rector in any parish who will make any meaningful contribution to that parish, must be pastoral. And to the people of this parish, I want to reassure you that Jonathan Brown is extremely pastoral. One of the things about Jonathan which stand out from his time as a colleague in Hillsborough is his deep concern and care for individual parishioners. He is very pastoral, and I believe that as your rector Jonathan will prove an effective and faithful rector.”

The preacher urged Rev Brown to be “proactive” like Nehemiah. “Be ‘out and about’, get to know individuals, build relationships, be known as their pastor as well as their rector, not just formally but relationally and pastorally as someone whom they can trust, someone who cares – for that is who you are – and know your people individually. May God use you as an instrument of grace and mercy in this place.”

Dr Brown appealed to the people of Maghera and Killelagh to support their new Rector. “Jonathan is not – despite being very able, despite being a hard worker – is not a one-man band, to do all the work or ministry of this parish.” To put it bluntly and practically, the preacher said, that meant that every parishioner who was a believer and who trusted in Christ, had a ministry, a role and a responsibility. It might be with Sunday school; it might be assisting at a service, or catering at a parish function. “Whatever our talents, whatever our gifts, whatever our personality – and we’re all different – but each believer is called to serve the Lord.

“As Jonathan serves here in this parish, there needs to be a partnership with the people. Jonathan is called by God to be pastoral, to be prayerful and to be prophetic. But you, the believers, are called to a partnership. Honour that calling. Jonathan, I know, will honour God’s calling upon him, and I invite the parish to honour God’s calling upon you in partnership.”

Thursday’s Service of Institution was organised by the Rural Dean, Rev Canon Colin Welsh. Bishop Andrew was assisted by the Archdeacon of Derry, Ven Robert Miller (who presented the incumbent-elect for institution); Diocesan Registrar, Rev Canon David Crooks; and by the Bishop’s Curate, Rev Carmen Hayes.

After the service, the congregation made their way to the adjoining parish hall for speeches and supper.

To be Queen has been ‘a divine calling’ – Bishop Andrew tells Jubilee congregation

The Bishop of Derry and Raphoe has told the congregation at a Platinum Jubilee Service in St Columb’s Cathedral that if they are truly to honour Her Majesty the Queen – both her constancy and her service – then they would seek to follow her example and put their faith in “the great reconciler” Jesus Christ.

Rt Rev Andrew Forster was addressing a congregation that included the Vice Lord Lieutenant for the County Borough of Londonderry, Mr Ian Crowe MBE DL; Rt. Hon. Conor Burns MP, Minister of State at the Northern Ireland Office; and Derry City and Strabane District Councillor Philip McKinney, who was representing the Mayor, Alderman Graham Warke.

The service was led by the Dean of Derry, Very Rev Raymond Stewart, who was assisted by leading members of the four main churches in the city. The Bishop of Derry, Dr Donal McKeown, the Moderator of the Presbytery of Derry and Donegal, Rev Graeme Orr, and the Minister of Carlisle Road Methodist Church, Rev John Montgomery read prayers during the service, while Bishop Forster preached the sermon. The readings were delivered by Mr Crowe and Cllr McKinney.

In his sermon, Bishop Andrew said footage of the new Queen Elizabeth arriving at London airport, in February 1952, after a flight from Nairobi, and being greeted on the runway by her first Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, seemed almost like another world. “Post-war rationing was still in place,” the Bishop said, “major cities across the country still bore the scars of bombing raids. It seems impossible to get our heads around the incredible changes in our world in those 70 years, changes that have been both exhilarating and, at times, bewildering.

“Over the last couple of days, there’ve been many, many tributes paid to the Queen. One of the words that keeps cropping up is ‘constant’ – the constancy of Her Majesty. And think about it. Look back on your own life, at all the changes that you’ve had, both good and bad, and the constant presence has been Queen Elizabeth.

“On her 21st birthday, when the young Princess Elizabeth dedicated herself to our service in these now famous words, she said: ‘I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service.’ She then said, ‘God, help me to make good my vow.’ On the eve of her coronation, she asked: ‘Pray that God may give me wisdom and strength to carry out the solemn promises I shall be making, and that I may faithfully serve Him and you all the days of my life.’

“If ever you needed evidence that God answers prayer, here we have it in the life of the Queen: her constant presence, her faithfulness, her dignity. And what has been the golden thread running throughout these 70 years? It is the golden thread of service to us and service to God: service that has made her the constant in our lives; service that has both inspired and humbled us; service that has profoundly benefitted the life of this nation and the Commonwealth; service that in her understated way has put both presidents and paupers at ease in her presence; service that has led us through times of great celebration and times of great hardship; service that has moved us and blessed us.”

Bishop Andrew recalled the Queen’s words to the nation on the 5th of April, 2020, two or three weeks into a lockdown none of us had ever experienced. “She said this: ‘We should take comfort that better days will return. We will be with our friends again. We will be with our families again. We will meet again.’ I don’t in any way mean this to sound disrespectful but for me it seemed like she was like the nation’s grandmother, comforting us, helping us, guiding us and giving us hope in those dark days of the lockdown.”

The Platinum Jubilee may prove to be unique in history, the Bishop said. He remembered as a child celebrating the Silver Jubilee, at a street party in 1977. On that occasion, he said, the poet, Philip Larkin, penned these words: ‘In times when nothing stood but worsened, or grew strange, there was one constant good: she did not change.’

“One constant good,” Bishop Andrew repeated, “the constant life of service; the constant in our lives that we are thankful for tonight. But for her, there is one great constant in her life, her faith in Jesus Christ, the one whom Scripture tells us comes not to serve but to be served.

“The Queen speaks both beautifully and vividly about her faith in Christ. She uses words to speak of her faith, one of them being this little sentence: ‘I draw strength,’ she said, ‘from the message of hope in the Christian Gospel.’ But she speaks eloquently of that faith in her life of devoted service. For her, to be Queen has been a vocation – not simply a role, but a divine calling. Her faith has shaped her service and her life, and that remains an example for us all.

“And may I presume to say that her faith has also shaped the influence that she has brought to bear in this place that we call home, in Northern Ireland. The divisions of our society are sometimes obvious and at other times more subtle, but they are divisions that have blinded us and diminished each one of us. It seems to me that the Queen has given us an example of quite literally stretching out the hand of reconciliation.

“It is never an easy or simple thing to do, but perhaps she tells us why and how she does it. Her Christmas speech – 2007 she said this – ‘Mary and Joseph found no room in the inn. They had to make do with a stable and the new-born Jesus had to be laid in a manger. This was a family which had been shut out. Perhaps it was because of this early experience that throughout his ministry Jesus of Nazareth reached out and made friends with people whom others ignored or despised. It was in this way that he proclaimed his belief that in the end we are all brothers and sisters in one human family.’

“Every Christmas, I always think, she says it far better than any preacher can. A life rooted in faith and inspired by hope and inspired by the hope of Christ to build a better world.

“In her message to the people of Northern Ireland on the centenary of the foundation of Northern Ireland, she said these probing and searching words for each and every one of us. ‘It is clear that reconciliation, equality and mutual understanding cannot be taken for granted and will require sustained fortitude and commitment.

“If we are truly to honour Her Majesty the Queen – both her constancy and her service – then we will also seek to follow her example and, like her, put our faith in the one who is truly constant, the one who is the same yesterday, today and for ever, the one who comes to be a servant of us all, who is Jesus Christ – the great reconciler – whose ministry is the ministry of reconciliation, reconciling us to God through the cross; reconciling us to our neighbours and our friends and even to our enemies; the one who comes to transform and to bless.

“And on this Platinum Jubilee that we are all honoured to celebrate, today we look to the example of the Queen and we look to the one who has inspired that example, Jesus Christ. And I commend him to you, both as saviour and as friend. And as we seek to live out the example of Christ, we, too, can make the world, and even the place that we live in, a better, more hopeful, more loving, more gracious place, and we do it in the name of Christ. Amen.” 

During Friday evening’s service, Bishop Andrew dedicated a new kneeler, which was made by members of Templemore Mothers’ Union to mark the centenary. It took 11 of the women almost 70 hours – spread across nine day – to cross-stitch the kneeler. It was brought to the Cathedral by the Branch leader, Irene Hewitt, and presented to the Bishop by Church Warden Muriel Hamilton.

Beacon lit to mark Queen’s Platinum Jubilee

The Vice Lord Lieutenant for the County Borough of Londonderry, Mr Ian Crowe MBE DL, has lit a beacon at the main gate of St Columb’s Cathedral to mark the Platinum Jubilee of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth.

It was one of 1,500 such beacons set alight across the UK and Commonwealth on Friday evening to celebrate the Queen’s seven decades on the throne. The Queen has become the first UK monarch to reach this milestone.

Leading members of the four main churches in Londonderry joined the Mayor, civic, business and community leaders in a throng of people who gathered for Thursday evening’s ceremony.

The Mayor of Derry and Strabane District, Alderman Graham Warke, said it was an honour to welcome those present to a special occasion in which they were joining with many other people throughout the world. The Vice Lord Lieutenant read out a proclamation to commemorate the Platinum Jubilee, before lighting the beacon.

During the ceremony, the Gentlemen of the Cathedral Choir sang ‘A Song for the Commonwealth’, a piper played ‘Diu Regnare’ and a bugler played ‘Majesty’.

As the ceremony drew to a close, the Moderator of the Presbytery of Derry and Donegal, Rev Graeme Orr, the Minister of Carlisle Road Methodist Church, Rev John Montgomery, the Bishop of Derry, Dr Donal McKeown, and the Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev Andrew Forster, led prayers of thanksgiving for the Queen.

Bishop Andrew said our hearts were filled with celebration as we gave thanks for 70 years of Queen Elizabeth’s reign. “Her majesty has been a beacon of duty,” the Bishop said, “pledged as a young woman; a beacon of service, unfailingly given; a beacon of reconciliation, lived out in her many visits to Northern Ireland and, indeed, to the Republic of Ireland; a beacon of devotion who, as sovereign, has guarded our democracy; a beacon of hope, in darker days, addressing her nation in times of peril; a beacon of self-sacrifice, giving of herself to share the burdens of others; a beacon of steadfastness, leading by example of both strength and humility; and a beacon of faith. Our sovereign Queen who is a beacon to us all, knows within herself one who is a greater light, the one who is known as the light of the world, Jesus Christ.

“A number of years ago, in one of her Christmas addresses, she said this: ‘Billions of people follow Christ’s teaching and find in him the guiding light of their lives. I am one of them.’

“So, this evening, as all of her people, we give thanks to God for our sovereign lady, Queen Elizabeth, and we pray that the light that has shone so brightly in her life – the light of faith – would shine in each one of our lives. And we pray that her example would inspire us to acts of duty and service, to acts of compassion and kindness, that Her Majesty has shown through her long reign. And we, this evening – the people of this great city – give thanks for that example and pray for her continued health and wellbeing.”

Glendermott ‘Men’s Shed’ opens

Bishop Andrew Forster has opened the Parish of Glendermott’s new Men’s Shed on a reclaimed site behind the Parish Hall on Church Brae in Londonderry.

The project is the brainchild of Select Vestry member Joanne Miller and the six men who comprise the Glen Fruit and Vegetable Growers group. The team, with help from the Rector, Rev Robert Boyd, cleared an area of land in a hollow to the rear of the rectory, and planted it with a variety of vegetables and fruit. They also erected a large polytunnel which has been filled with raised beds containing more ‘fruit and veg’.

Rev Boyd said the project – which was conceived and completed during the pandemic – had been “a lifeline” for some of the men involved.

Bishop Andrew cut an improvised ‘ribbon’ – in reality a piece of twisted sacking, or “recycled ribbon”, as it was jokingly described – to officially ‘open’ the Men’s Shed.

Bishop Andrew said he was delighted to see the land being reclaimed and used for greater glory. He said the Men’s Shed spoke clearly about the Parish’s commitment to its community. “What we have, here,” he said, “is a wonderful example of how as a community we can thrive together, and how we can reach out to the wider community, as well.

“One of the really important things to us, as followers of Jesus Christ,” the Bishop said, “is also how we care for the environment, and tend the environment around us, and I think that’s becoming more and more of an issue for us as Christians as we realise what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. [It means] to care for the creation that he gives us. This is a fabulous example of how we tend creation, care for creation, and delight in the created order that God gives us. When we walk inside this and see the tomato plants and onions and everything else growing, isn’t it wonderful to see the creativity of God?

“The third thing I want to say is this: in Mark’s Gospel, there’s a little verse that we often skip over. It talks about Jesus choosing his disciples and it simply says this: he chose them that they might be with him. Now what does that mean? For me that talks about friendship and companionship, and the world that we live in – we’re very connected with social media, and so on – but we’re not the friends we used to be. People tend to be apart and isolated, and we suffer because of that. And what Glendermott Parish, through this brilliant project, is doing is supporting friendship and supporting companionship, which is at the heart of the Gospel. And for this Parish to lead the way in this project is an example to us all.”

After the opening ceremony, parishioners, clergy and members of the Men’s Shed team enjoyed refreshments in the hall. The fare on offer included homegrown salad sandwiches (made with leaves grown literally a few metres away), and a stunning cake, baked by parishioner Catherine Boyd, which looked like a work of art. Indeed, the cake – which had been decorated to look like a flourishing allotment – looked so good, the Bishop said, that it was almost a sin to cut it. But he did cut it. And it tasted every bit as good as it looked.