Busloads of people made their way to the north coast on Friday 27th May for the opening day of the ‘Lord, for the Years’ Flower Festival in Christ Church Castlerock. The visitors travelled from far and wide to see a floral display that celebrates what the Rector, Rev Chris MacBruithin, called a “belated 150th anniversary”. The festival had originally been conceived three years ago, but plans had to be put on hold because of the Covid pandemic.

The ‘Lord, for the Years’ Flower Festival was Christ Church’s first such festival in quarter of a century. The church was transformed for the occasion by the festival’s artistic director, the renowned floral artist and national demonstrator, Alan Beatty, who was assisted by James Burnside. The festival was project managed by Castlerock parishioner Evelyn Conn. All proceeds are going towards church funds. Among the first there to see the flowers were Hazel and Archie Thompson, who are members of the same Mid-Ulster Flower Club that the artistic directors belong to.

In his sermon, at the opening Service, the Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev Andrew Forster confided that he had had an unpleasant close encounter with a display of lilies at a different flower festival a number of years ago. “Lilies and me don’t agree,” the Bishop said. “I could feel my nose beginning to tingle a bit. Then I started to sneeze, and I carried on. And then my eyes began to water and by about minute four or five I was a blubbering mess. I then tried to move over to the lectern to continue the sermon, but we just had to give up. Now, in about four or five minutes” – the Bishop said, to peals of laughter – “you will maybe be hoping that I’ll have to give up again, but I’m feeling very safe at the moment.”

Bishop Andrew said the floral displays in Christ Church were stunningly beautiful. “In some ways, in the world that we live in – that seems to revolve around bad news and difficult news and sad news – to appreciate again the beauty of creation can ground us in the love of God and in the good purposes of God. And we have the joy and the privilege of living in a corner of God’s creation that so many people come to see because of its beauty, because of its landscape, because of what we see around us.“

Unfortunately,” the Bishop said, “whenever we’re caught up in this downward spiral of news, our eyes can be blinded to the beauty around us, and an event like this helps us to open our eyes again to beauty, to open our eyes again to the intricacy of the creation of almighty God, because what you see today is God as the artist – the artist of the beauty in the world around us. And doesn’t it say so much about the art of our God, doesn’t it say so much about the ingenuity and creativity of our God that every flower in this building is different; that every colour is different; that every leaf is different; and that every person here is different; and yet we are made in the image of God?”

Bishop Andrew talked to the congregation about the evocative power of scent: the bouquet of flowers, the smell of coffee, the scent of baked bread, and the fragrance of perfume, could awaken in us powerful memories. “In 2 Corinthians, St Paul says of you and me that we are to be ‘the aroma of Christ’, so that in our lives, in our witness, in the people that we are, there’d be that scent of the beauty of Jesus, and in the way we live our lives, the aroma of Christ would be evident. Let’s be those people who take our part in God’s creation, who celebrate beauty and creativity, who build for new generations, and that in this village and far beyond people will recognise in us the aroma of Christ himself.”