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Joyful scenes as new Deacons are ordained

There were joyful scenes in Christ Church Derry on Sunday evening (16th June 2024) both during and after the Service of Ordination in which three new OLM Deacons were ordained for the Diocese of Derry and Raphoe – Rev Linda Hughes, Rev Eleanor Craig and Rev Gillian Millar.

Relatives and friends of all three women – including many supporters from their respective parishes – were in church to see the laying on of hands by the Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev Andrew Forster.

“I know that this evening,” the Bishop said, “each of us will have a deep sense of both celebration and prayerfulness – celebrating the journey that God brings us in life and celebration as we see our candidate deacons take this very important step in their own discipleship and this very important step in their ministry.

“It is a joy for me to ordain any time,” Bishop Andrew said. “t’s a joy for me to ordain Eleanor and Gillian and Linda this evening. I’ve been part of their journey towards ordination and it’s been such a blessing for me to see three children of God open to the leading of the Holy Spirit, open to the prompting of the Church and open to the call of God in their lives. We want you to be blessed tonight because you’re a blessing to us, and we hope and pray that tonight will be really very, very special and that it will live long in your memory.”

The sermon was preached by Rev Dr Patrick McGlinchey, lecturer in Missiology and Pastoral Studies at the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, who posed the questions: what was really needed in order to be ready for ordination; and what were the true credentials of the ordained person?

Dr McGlinchey suggested that the answers could be found in the first Scripture reading (Isaiah6 vs 1-18). “Even though thousands of years separated Isaiah in Jerusalem from Gillian, Eleanor and Linda, there are some interesting meeting points because as you read the story you realize that Isaiah had three unique credentials for his ministry and he had been called to exercise these traits to fulfill what God wanted him to do.”

The preacher said God wanted all three candidate deacons to grow in and to develop in their ministry. Trait number one, he said, was that Isaiah had a big vision of God, which he had gained from a literal vision. Isaiah discovered that God was real and it was this vision which probably sustained Isaiah’s entire prophetic ministry. “Whatever else is needed for ministry, we all need this compelling vision of a God who is real, a God who’s not dead but alive, a God who cares deeply for people to whom we minister and, ‘soon-to-be deacons’, a God who cares deeply for you.”

Dr McGlinchey said, though, that the vision of a great God brought with it a painful sense of our own inadequacy. Any who were called to ministry desperately needed an awareness of their own inadequacy so that they would truly rely on God alone. “You are not ready for ministry, you’re not qualified, you don’t have the credentials if you think that you are already up to the job…It’s when you recognize that you cannot do this task on your own strength that you truly will rely on the Lord.”

“For ordination you need a big vision of God; a sense of our inadequacy and our need of God; and finally a willingness to be available to him.” Dr McGlinchey shared with the new deacons what he referred to as a recipe – with only three ingredients – for sustaining that level of commitment in their ministry. The very first was being close to Jesus. The second was to preach the Gospel. And ingredient number three was to get to know and come to love the people to whom they were called to minister. “Your people will not care how much you know until they know how much you care. So, it’s that challenge to get alongside the people, to really get to know them, to pray for them by name, to be available for them, to be present to them, and as you do that you will be fulfilling the calling that you’ve been given.”

After the sermon, the candidate deacons stood before Bishop Andrew and answered a series of questions as part of the Rite of Ordination. The candidates then knelt before the Bishop and he placed his hands on their heads, asking God to pour out his Holy Spirit upon his servants. The new deacons were each vested with a stole by the Archdeacon of Derry, Ven. Robert Miller, and presented with a bible as a sign of their God-given authority to proclaim His word. The three women were then acclaimed by the clergy present and by the congregation.

The readings for Sunday evening’s service were delivered by Daniel Millar, Valerie Ferguson and Anne Heaslett. The music was provided by the Christ Church Choir, accompanied by Ben McGonigle on the organ and piano.

Aghanloo parishioners praised for their faithfulness at Service of Dedication in St Lugha’s Church

The Aghanloo, Balteagh, Carrick and Tamlaghtard Group of Parishes welcomed Bishop Andrew to St Lugha’s Parish Church, on Sunday morning (16th June 2024), for a special service at which gifts from the Church Wardens and members of the congregation were dedicated to the glory of God.

The service was led by the Rector, Rev Rhys Jones, who began by welcoming Bishop Andrew and his wife, Heather, to the service of worship, and by leading the congregation in prayer for the Bishop and his family.

During the service, a number of gifts were dedicated including new Advent and Lenten cloths in memory of all those who died in conflict; new Christmas and Easter colours in loving memory of Davey Moore; Pentecost cloths in memory of Robert Douglas; Trinity colours in memory of Dorothy and Rae King; and Communion linens on behalf of the Mullan and Smyth families. A new alms plate was gifted on behalf of the parishioners and a commemorative plaque was dedicated to the Glory of God and the honour of all our service personnel.

Also, during the service, a presentation was made on behalf of Rev Rhys and the Parish to Mrs Margaret Mullan, in recognition of her 12 years’ service as the Rector’s Warden.

Today’s Scripture readings – from 1 Samuel 15 v 34–35 and 16 1–13, and Mark 4 v 26–34 – related how David, Jesse’s youngest son who had been out “keeping the sheep”, was chosen as the Lord’s anointed one; and how “a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth…when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants”.

Bishop Andrew focused on these readings in his sermon, telling the congregation that each of us in the family of God had a role to play. “What is Jesus saying [in the Parable of the Mustard Seed]? He’s saying that small things matter. Small things are important. That Jesus Christ takes the small things that we offer him and uses them to build his kingdom: the kind word, the loving action, the faltering prayer – Jesus uses it.

“The small things matter,” Bishop Andrew said, “and it means that each of us, even if we feel inadequate, even if we feel we’re not like this one or that one, the small things – the little seed offered to God – he takes it and does something remarkable through it.”

Bishop Andrew said the parishioners of the Balteagh Group were blessed with four of the most picturesque parishes in the Diocese. Addressing the congregation in St Lugha’s, he said he wanted to thank them for the way they looked after their church and invested of their energy and care and love for the church.

However, the Bishop told the congregation that while the presence of God wasn’t bound up in a building, there was something about coming into a prayerful place – where generations had prayed and sung and worshipped and loved and cared for each other – that became really precious. “It becomes something that for you, and maybe generations of your family, this place – or Balteagh or Carrick or Tamlaghtard – have become really precious to you. And it’s more than simply bricks and mortar, stone and plaster; it’s a place that encapsulates for you what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ and to serve him.”

The Bishop thanked the parishioners for being present and ready to play their part in God’s family. “I want to thank you if – humbly, falteringly at times, maybe even frightened at times – that we’re prepared to take the step of faith, to follow Jesus and serve him because, let me tell you, it’s the most wonderful thing in the world to be a follower of Jesus Christ and you and I are called to follow him.”

Music for today’s service was provided by the Aghanloo Combined Choir which comprised members of all four churches in the group and the wider community. After the service, the congregation moved to a nearby gazebo – erected in the church grounds specially for the occasion – to enjoy refreshments and fellowship.

Festival of Cloaks opens at St Columb’s Cathedral

St Columb’s Cathedral’s long-awaited and eagerly-anticipated Festival of Cloaks was officially opened on Friday evening, June 14th 2024, by the Bishop of Meath and Kildare, Most Rev Pat Storey, at a ceremony attended by the Lord Lieutenant for the County Borough of Londonderry, Mr Ian Crowe MBE.

The Dean of Derry, Very Rev Raymond Stewart, told those present that he believed nothing like the festival had ever been held in Northern Ireland before. Speaking, he said, as a son of the Diocese of Kildare, he was delighted that the legacy of St Brigid in spreading the Gospel all across Ireland was now being recognised.

Opening the festival, Bishop Storey said it was a delight to be back in Derry-Londonderry and back in St Columb’s Cathedral. The Bishop shared something of the history of St Brigid – the patroness saint of Ireland.

“What’s a cloak for?”, Bishop Storey asked. “A cloak is to protect, to keep warm and to cover. And the legend around Saint Brigid is that there’s room for everyone under Brigid’s cloak. No one is beyond the Good News of Jesus Christ.

“Like Brigid, we’re alert to every opportunity for every single person on the planet. Brigid was known in particular for outreach in giving to the poor; for praying for healing and for caring for the planet. But most of all she made the most of her history and heritage of Christian faith. Brigid was centered on Christian faith. That is what she was for. That is what she felt her vocation was. So she acted and spoke only to share Good News.

“That legacy still exists in my cathedral – in St Brigid’s Cathedral in Kildare – in this cathedral, and in the South we even get a bank holiday now in the name of St Brigid, which is almost the best thing of all. So, tonight, if you can be anything, be a Brigid. It is with great delight that I officially open the Festival of Cloaks.”

The Bishop of Derry, Most Rev Dr Donal McKeown, said the wonderful range of 78 cloaks on display reflected the “marvellous diversity” in our community and on this island. “I hope this will enable us to cherish our diversity, to see that as a richness and not as something that divides or threatens us. I hope it enables us to be proud of our past – recognising the rubble that’s there and seeing it as an opportunity to build a foundation for our wonderful young people who deserve better than earlier generations ever obtained or received.

“This is a very imaginative approach,” Bishop McKeown said, “to sharing a range of creativity but I hope it will enable all of us to look at the past and find a shared past – in its multiplicity of identities a shared past – because once we have a shared past, our spiritual intelligence through the grace of God will enable us to look forward to a shared future.”

As Bishop Andrew Forster moved forward to address those present, he was surprised by an unexpected rendition of ‘Happy birthday’, followed by a round of applause. Visibly taken aback, the Bishop pointed out that he wasn’t alone in having something to celebrate: Malcolm and Irene Hewitt, who were seated near the back of the church, were celebrating their 49th wedding anniversary – which prompted another round of applause, this time for the happy couple.

Bishop Andrew praised the organisers of the festival which he said would enhance the experience of visitors to the city throughout the summer.

The Bishop said there were frequent mentions of ‘robes’ in the Bible but he said Jesus talked about a ‘cloak’ in chapter 5 of Matthew’s Gospel, when he said if someone wants your tunic, give them your cloak. “One of the most important parts of the teaching of Jesus is to open our hearts to the generosity of God – the generosity of God in the giving of Himself and of ourselves to others, because those verses talk about that.

“There’s a physical generosity – somebody wants your tunic, give them your tunic as well, they’re going to need your cloak – but there’s a generosity of spirit, isn’t there? There’s a generosity of spirit that looks on someone who is perhaps in need and wants to go the extra mile to help. There’s a generosity of spirit that says to those who are struggling that we want to help. There’s a generosity of spirit that sees the other as part of the family of God and part of our responsibility. So, the cloak that Jesus talks about sharing, speaks into our hearts about having a generosity of spirit and a generosity of heart.

“In this city that we all love, and across this city, let’s work and pray for a generosity of spirit, that the cloak is freely given, that we have a generosity of heart to those who struggle, to those from whom we differ, that we have that generosity of spirit that says ‘Yes’ to the generosity of God in our lives and we share the cloak as Jesus tells us to do.

“I want to wish great success on this wonderful display right throughout the summer.”

Music for the service was provided by Tracey McRory who performed on the harp and the violin; soprano, Susan Wilson, accompanied by Ben McGonigle; and the Cathedral Girls’ Choir, directed by Nicky Morton,

The Festival of Cloaks will continue at St Columb’s Cathedral until the 31st of August, and will be open from Monday to Saturday from 10am until 4pm.

Double celebration in Gartan as new extension opens on Bishop’s birthday

There was a surprise in store for Bishop Andrew, on Friday 14th June 20242, when he travelled to Gartan National School to officially open its new extension and playscape. The staff at the school had done their homework and found out that the Bishop was celebrating his birthday, the same day and, while the school community gave thanks for their impressive new classroom block and wonderful new playground, Bishop Andrew was presented with a chocolate birthday cake, complete with sparkling fountain candle.

It wasn’t the only cake on hand at the school, which overlooks Gartan Lake. There was another, with the words ‘Celebration Day 2024’ iced on it, which captured perfectly the sense of achievement among staff and pupils as another academic year drew towards a close.

There were tears among pupils and parents as four of the older children bade farewell to their teachers and fellow pupils before preparing to head off for the summer and then the next stage in their education. Presentations were made to two pupils for their perfect attendance records this year.

Principal Ann Gourley thanked the many people who had helped make the new extension a reality. She said the school had been waiting for the new classroom since 2007. And she praised members of the school community for helping to raise the funds – and doing the work – that led to the opening today of the new playscape.

Bishop Andrew said the boys and girls at Gartan were a credit to their parents and guardians, and said he was “hugely proud” of Gartan School. “A happy, healthy, learning environment in school is not only a blessing to what happens in here,” he said, “it’s a blessing to each and every home that’s represented [here] and it’s a blessing to the wider community.”

The Bishop was subsequently invited to perform not one but two opening ceremonies, cutting the ribbon on the new extension and then on the play area.

Historic first at St Augustine’s as city’s main Christian churches celebrate St Columba together

Members and clergy from Londonderry’s four main Christian denominations have taken part in a special service to mark the Feast Day of Saint Columba. It’s believed this afternoon’s service in St Augustine’s Church – ‘the Wee Church on the Walls – [on Sunday 9th June 2024] was the first united inter-denominational service in honour of the city’s founder and patron saint.

Incessant rain meant that the original plan, to hold it in the grounds of St Augustine’s and on the city walls, was revised and the service was moved indoors. The venue was an appropriate one since archaeologists believe St Augustine’s is the site on which Columba founded his first church, Dubh Regles.

The Rector, Rev Nigel Cairns, welcomed “the great and the good” – his fellow clergy – and what he called “the most important people”, the members of the congregation, to what he called a “significant inter-denominational day of being together – a day for our city and for our Christian witness in it”.

The Archdeacon of Derry, Ven. Robert Miller, said the psalmist reminded us that it was a good and pleasant thing when brothers and sisters dwelt together in unity. “It is good to be together and to share ecumenically in what we believe to be the first of this kind of service in the city – certainly that we’re aware of. I bring greetings from the Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, who is in Gartan as we’re gathering here so, again, not only are we joining together here but we’re joining our praises and prayers in other places where Columba is remembered.

“Of course,” the Archdeacon said, “it’s important for us to remember not just the person and the stories that we have and that we pass on about Saint Columba, but to remember his charism, that of bringing the Word of life and the Word of hope and of love to this community and indeed to many other communities as well.”

The Rev Peter Morris from Carlisle Road Methodist Church and the Rev Nigel Cairns shared excerpts from the Amra Cholm Cille (or Dallan’s Eulogy), translated by P.L. Henry. These reflected Columba’s devotion to the Gospels and his role as a peacemaker among warring tribes in Ireland and Scotland.

The minister of First Derry Presbyterian Church, Rev Colin Jones, read a Scripture reading from the Gospel of St Mark, and this was followed by an inter-denominational address by the Bishop of Derry, Most Rev Dr Donal McKeown.

Bishop McKeown said if you asked most young people here what the big event of this weekend was, they were unlikely to choose today’s inter-denominational service, nor even St Columba’s Day. They were more likely to suggest Taylor Swift’s first UK concert. Over the 20 months from March last year until Christmas this year, the Bishop said, Swift will have performed 152 shows on five continents grossing over $1billion. “Against that,” he said, “all our celebrations this weekend, in all our different traditions, pale into insignificance. And yet we’re celebrating Saint Columba just over one-thousand-five-hundred years after his birth. So, I ask myself whether the songs of Ms Swift will be remembered long after the end of her career, or 1,500 years after the end of her career?”

Dr McKeown wondered why Saint Columba was being remembered after such a long time. “Maybe because we see in him a figure who struggled with many of the realities that afflict people in every generation. He knew like we do what can happen when family and community loyalties clash and people get hurt. He knew what it meant to be sorry for past events but not trapped in them.”

The Bishop said there were a number of things we could learn from Columba who, he said, didn’t skirt round the reality of hatred or exclusion in his own day. In a culture where so many slogans want us to be angry about everything, Columba would want us to do better than to be anger-mongers. The Gospel that Columba loved, Dr McKeown suggested, challenged us to become great people, focused not on ‘me’ and ‘my little world’ but the welfare of our community, our society and our world.

Columba was a monk who lived in community, the Bishop said. The life of a monastery can’t have been easy, but renewal in the church – in all our churches – so often involves groups coming together and supporting one another in reaching out to the margins. Columba reminded us of the importance of community-building, especially in an age of lonely individualism. “Without the example of Columba and so many prophetic leaders, there’d be little renewal for any of us,” Bishop Donal said.

Closing prayers were offered by the Dean of Derry, Very Rev Raymond Stewart, who asked God to take away all hatred and prejudice and anything else that may hinder us from Godly union and concourse. “We remember with thanksgiving those who in times past left these shores to bring the message of God’s love to people in other parts of the world. But today, with more and more people coming to our shores from other parts of the world, we pray that their understanding of God’s love will bring a fresh vision to our lives.

“O Lord, we thank you for the saints of our own nations; for those who in earlier years pioneered the Gospel in our land; for those who kept the lamp of faith burning in times of spiritual darkness; for those who bravely suffered martyrdom for the truth they loved; for those who went as messengers of Christ to distant lands to share the Good News with others; for those who fought the battle for social righteousness and cared for the poor and oppressed. Keep us ever mindful, O God, of the example of these your saints, and make us more worthy to follow in their steps, through Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen.”

Gartan St Columba Celebration an ‘auspicious but sad’ occasion – Bishop Andrew

Bishop Andrew has paid tribute to the Rev David and Rev Heather Houlton who retire today after six and a half years ministry in the Parish of Conwal Union with Gartan. Rev David has served as Rector throughout that period, while Rev Heather has served as Chaplain of Letterkenny University Hospital and Associate Minister of Conwal Union and Gartan.

The couple’s last service [on Sunday 9th June 2024] was an important one for the local Church of Ireland community, the Annual Diocesan St Columba Celebration which usually takes place outdoors at Gartan Abbey – not far from where Columba is reputed to have been born – but which was forced indoors instead this year, to Gartan Parish Church in Churchhill, because of driving rain.

Bishop Andrew said it was an auspicious day – the actual Feast Day of St Columba – but that there was a sadness to the day, as well, as they bade a very fond farewell to Rev Heather and to Rev David from the parishes and from the diocese. “I want to thank Heather and David personally for their ministry in Conwal and Gartan over the last six and a half years. You very quickly endeared yourselves to your parishioners and your ministry has been marked by real love of your people and a love in sharing the goodness of God with them.

“Heather, I want to thank you, in particular,” the Bishop said, “for your ministry in the hospital in Letterkenny as a chaplain. I know from around the diocese that that has been deeply appreciated by so many. Thank you for all you have done.”

And turning to her husband, Bishop Andrew said, “I suppose a Yorkshire man has to go back to Yorkshire, doesn’t he, to retire? We’d much prefer you to stay in Donegal, but we do wish you every blessing for the future. We’ve great thankfulness for all that you’ve done and, you know, you’ll always have a welcome in the homes of Donegal; you know that.”

In his sermon, Bishop Andrew held St Columba up as a model for the modern church to follow and as an inspiration for God’s people nowadays. The saint was born “up the road” in the year 521, the Bishop said, and he was born into a noble family, an aristocratic, princely family. He could’ve held onto that chieftain lifestyle; he could’ve stayed a favourite son of a favourite prince, and lived with all the benefits and prestige that that would have brought him. “But not so for Columba, because Columba was a follower. He was a wholehearted follower of Jesus Christ.

“For him, being a follower would lead him on pilgrimage, pilgrimage to do the work of God in different places. And for us, if we follow the example of Columba, we’re to be followers, followers whose pilgrimage might keep us in our own locality but yet it is still a pilgrimage that should lead us deeper into the love of God, as his children. The problem is, at times, that we end up following the wrong things, whereas Columba, this prince, decides ‘I will be a follower of Jesus Christ’ and following Christ for Columba becomes this absolute passion in his life. And what he did as a result of that, I think, is a wonderful model for the church today.”

Bishop Andrew said the monastery that Columba founded in Derry became much more than the walls of a building in which the worship of God happened. It became a place of education, of rudimentary healthcare, a place of commerce and trade, and a place where people learned skills. And Columba replicated that in Ireland and Scotland. “He was this passionate follower of Jesus Christ and his passion for being a follower meant that he couldn’t keep it to himself,” Bishop Andrew said. “He has this amazing model of planting churches and out of the planting of a church bless[ing] the wider community.

“And I think it’s a beautiful picture for us if we’re to be truly Columban followers that we see the church not simply as the monastery where we worship God and [which we] then disappear from, but that the family of God and we as individual followers of Jesus Christ are people who share that in every aspect of our lives.

“Following him means whether it’s in education, or in our workplace or wherever we are, that we are followers of Jesus, carrying his love and his grace with us. Unfortunately, in society today, we’ve got too reticent, too nervous to do that, whereas you and I believe it’s the most wonderful thing in the world to be a follower of Jesus Christ.

“Columba knew it was the most wonderful thing in the world. That’s why he planted monasteries all over the place, and I think it’s a wonderful picture for us, in a secularising world. He started off in a pagan world, sharing the light of Christ; we live in a secularising world and we can follow his example in sharing the light of Christ in every aspect of life. That’s what it means to be a follower. It’s not simply locked up in the walls of a monastery or the walls of a church.”

Bishop Andrew paid tribute, too, to the Britannia Band, who provided music as usual for today’s service. And afterwards, also as usual, the congregation enjoyed fellowship and refreshments thanks to the generosity of the Gartan parishioners.

(Photos provided by Ven. David Huss, Archdeacon of Raphoe)

Double joy for Peoples family at Canon Mervyn’s installation

There was double cause for celebration in St Eunan’s Cathedral in Raphoe on Sunday evening (28th May 2024) as Rev Canon Mervyn Peoples was installed as Prebendary of Killymard and a member of the Cathedral Chapter on the day that he and his wife, Diane, celebrated their 48th wedding anniversary.

The couple’s children and grandchildren were in the Cathedral for an historic occasion for the Raphoe Group and an emotional one for the Peoples family.

The service was led by the Dean of Raphoe, Very Rev Liz Fitzgerald, and presided over by the Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev Andrew Forster.

The appointment was first announced last December by Bishop Andrew, and filled the vacancy in the Cathedral Chapter which followed the retirement of Rev Canon Judi McGaffin.

Canon Peoples has served in more than a dozen parishes in our diocese since his ordination, and clergy and parishioners from many of them were in St Eunan’s for this evening’s service.

The sermon was preached by the Rector of the Parish of Agherton (Portstewart), Rev Malcolm Ferry, reciprocating the service done almost eight years earlier when Canon People’s preached at the installation of the new Canon Ferry in St Columb’s Cathedral.

In his sermon this evening, Rev Ferry said, “Knowing Mervyn for as long as I do, I know that honour, position and status do not fit well in the same sentence as the name ‘Mervyn Peoples’. Mervyn was never one to look for – or be remotely interested in – the ladder of perceived success and fame. To use a football analogy, Mervyn did his talking ‘on the pitch’ of parish life by his work. He is a pastor first and foremost; a pastor second and always; and a pastor loved and respected.

“Where should a pastor do his talking?,” Rev Ferry asked. “On the pitch – which, for Mervyn, was the living rooms of the homes he faithfully visited; the bedsides where he brought the love and compassion of God to the sick and dying; and, of course, to the hospital wards where like all of us who are ordained, prayer and ministry to whoever stopped and said, ‘Hi, Father, can you come and pray with the family?’

The preacher said that two lives were about to change after, and as a result of, this evening’s service: Canon Peoples’ life and “the life of this cathedral church”, placed in the midst of Raphoe and district.

“So, this pastor’s heart now has a role within this historic place,” Canon Ferry suggested. “The change for Canon Peoples will be one he takes very seriously. He is a senior clergy of the Diocese and with that comes a need to be careful in the use of foolish words or gimmick-led tokenism, especially when it comes to the proclamation of the Gospel. Mervyn has that genuineness of faith that won’t dip into the mire of popularism.

“Mervyn will ‘struggle’, in a sense, with the status of being in a position of authority and wisdom, not because of lack of knowledge – far from it – but because he’s normally, I’m going to say, shy when it comes to being the centre of attention. So, Mervyn, step up…… you are a man of wisdom and faith, and the younger clergy and people will benefit from your purity of faith and humble example.

“The second life that must change is the life of this place. The Dean has now, as one of her colleagues, a pastor of Gold Standard. His witness here may be to support and encourage the pastoral heart of this wonderful place. It would be such a wonderful thing for the beating heart of a building like this to be the pastoral heart of the parishioners and of the town and wider community.”

Rev Ferry said the life of the Cathedral wasn’t set back in some ancient times. The life of this place was not to hark back to some perceived glory days. The life of this place was now, he said. “The life of the cathedral will reflect the time we find ourselves [in] now. We are to proclaim the Gospel now – this evening and for the days to come – in this historic and and beautiful church.

“And there in that sentence – ‘We are to proclaim the Gospel now’ – it creates a door for me to open, which Mervyn will expect. In his mind, he would say, ‘First and foremost, Malcolm, this evening should be about our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.’ Now, that would be Mervyn’s call to me.”

After the sermon, the Diocesan Registrar, Rev Canon David Crooks, brought the new Canon forward and read the Bishop’s Mandate, after which Dean Fitzgerald invited Canon Peoples to make the Chapter Declaration.

The congregation had to wait until the supper afterwards, in the nearby Cathedral Hall, to hear from him again. There, Canon Peoples thanked Bishop Andrew for conferring on him “the great privilege” of being a Canon in the ancient Cathedral of St Eunan, and Dean Fitzgerald for making the preparations for the Service of Installation.

“It was in this Cathedral parish,” he said, “that I commenced my ministry in 2006, under Dean Hay, who unfortunately cannot be with us tonight due to health reasons, but we wish him well. And this unique place holds very, very special memories for me, from the Mothers’ Union concerts here in the hall to the unforgettable Sunday School. And I also want to mention tonight my many friends and colleagues who have made the journey here tonight, in many cases travelling many miles to be with us. I thank each one of you for your support and the encouragement that you have been to me over so many years.

“Tonight I want to thank especially our preacher, Rev Malcolm Ferry, whom I have known and respected for many years, having served under him in All Saints Clooney in Londonderry. We worked really well together, we never had an argument or a bad word or a falling out throughout all the years we were there, and I’m sure that’s largely due to him.

“It would be remiss of me if I did not thank my wife Diane for the many times that Church life meant that family occasions were sacrificed. This, of course, is something that all clergy experience in their ministry. Diane has been and continues to be a wonderful source of inspiration. Today, as you’ve heard, we celebrated our 48th wedding anniversary and each one of those years has been a blessing to me. It was pure chance that our anniversary fell on the date of my installation.”

Canon Peoples thanked those who had prepared the supper, and again thanked all those who had come to the service.

“At the end of my ordination service as a priest in 2007, the Bishop said these words: ‘Remember always with thanksgiving that the treasure now entrusted to you is Christ’s own flock.’ These words have resonated with me ever since. Christ’s own flock is, indeed, a true treasure that all ordained clergy have entrusted to them. It has been, and remains, a great privilege to treasure Christ’s own flock and to serve them wherever I have been across our great united Dioceses. And one thing I’ve found is that there are so many committed Christian people everywhere. All they ask is to be loved and cared for in Christ’s sheepfold. To be nourished, encouraged and built up in their faith. And, of course, I thank Almighty God for granting me the strength to carry out my ministry.

“Some people, in recent months, have asked me if I’m fearful for the future with regard to the outcome of our Diocesan Review,” Canon Peoples said. “I am not fearful, and rather optimistic, because we will have the opportunity to take stock and build an even stronger church in Derry and Raphoe. After all, we are Easter people – a people of hope – because, as I have said on many occasions over the years, we know that in the end God’s church will prevail. Of that, we can be certain.”

The proceedings were brought to a close by Bishop Andrew who said that sometimes the decisions that bishops made could make them unpopular and sometimes the decisions that bishops made could make them popular. “Do you see making Canon Mervyn Peoples a canon, I tell you, that’s made me very popular. It really has.”

Bishop Andrew took a moment to explain why he had appointed Canon Peoples to the position. “Mervyn has given sterling service to many parishes across this diocese. When I go around the diocese people will often ask me where Mervyn is and they’ll tell me of some kindnesses he has shown to them in the past. Without complaint he has been ready to go wherever he has been asked to go to serve God. He has done that with full energy, with full commitment, with a full love for God and his church. And, as Bishop, I want to acknowledge that in one of the few tangible ways that I can, by making him a Canon of the Cathedral. That’s one of the reasons – the service that Mervyn has given and continues to give.

“But I want to say – and this will embarrass him – St Paul talks about the fruit of the Spirit. Now, fruit is something that grows on trees. An apple tree grows apples and a pear tree grows pears. For Christians, we are told by St Paul what the fruit of the Spirit should be that grows in us. You can read about it in Paul’s Letter to the Galatians, and he says this: ‘The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self-control.

“That fruit of the Spirit is so evidently seen in the life of Canon Mervyn Peoples. And making him – and asking him to be – a Canon in this Cathedral was one way of being able to acknowledge his service and his godliness, and that’s a joy for me, as it is a joy for all of us in the Diocese of Derry and Raphoe.”

A splashing day out for young and old at Family Fun Day

Families and clergy from across the Diocese arrived at the Dunlewey Centre in Donegal on Saturday for this year’s Family Fun Day, organised by our SEEDS Children’s Ministry.

The temperatures weren’t as high as in recent days, which meant that the midges were nowhere to be seen. Thankfully, too, the rain stayed away, and the longer the day wore on, the brighter and warmer it got.

While the bulk of the day was devoted to fun (as the name suggests), it began with worship, led by the Rector of the Parish of Urney, Rev Johnny McFarland, assisted by our Children’s Ministry Officer, Kirsty McCartney.

During the service, Emma Lutton of CMS Ireland shared a reflection with the children about the challenges facing refugees and migrants who were fleeing conflict in the case of the former, or seeking to improve their lives in the case of the latter.

After prayers and hymns, the day belonged to the families, with young and old enjoying the fun. The centre, which nestles between Dunlewey Lake and Mount Errigal (whose summit was shrouded by cloud today), is being extensively renovated.

Toddlers enjoyed the soft play area. Older children expended plenty of energy in well-equipped playground. It was hard to tell whether the adults or their young charges enjoyed the pedalos more. And for those in search of a more cerebral test, there were displays of weaving and spinning using a traditional loom and wheel.

Bishop Andrew extols value of curacies at General Synod

The Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev Andrew Forster, spoke passionately about the value of curacies during debate about the RB Report presented to the General Synod on Friday 10th May 2024.

“We’re finding it more challenging for parishes to have curates,” Bishop Andrew said, “and it’s mainly for financial reasons. And the formation of curates – I’m convinced of this – the time spent in curacy models what happens into the future. So, what you learn as a curate, how you’re formed as a curate, really dictates the way you end up spending your ministry. So, it’s so important that we have good, positive role models as rectors and good, formative parishes to provide that experience of curacy. And it’s becoming more and more challenging for parishes to do that, mainly because of the cost imperative.

“What we see in the RB is a body that wants to resource the mission of the church of Jesus Christ, resource ministry in the church of Jesus Christ, and as they look at the future of curacies and examine it this year, I just plead for wonderful, abundant generosity.”

Proposing the RB Report, the Vice–Chair of the RCB Executive Committee, Lyndon McCann S.C. explained that the Chairperson, Henry Algeo, could not be present to propose the report as he had experienced a life-threatening medical event last October. He reported that Henry was having a remarkable and wonderful recovery and had been reelected as one of the coopted members of the RCB.

Mr McCann explained that the RCB is the trustee body for the Church of Ireland. It manages the Church’s investments, administers over 18,000 trusts, pays the stipends and pensions of clergy and performs a myriad of other financial and administrative tasks but its principal mission is to provide financial support for the core work of the Church, he said.

He said that the it was a “formidable and daunting range of activities” for any charitable organisation to handle but it was undertaken with commendable professionalism and dedication by the staff at Church House and a range of lay and clerical volunteers.

𝐅𝐢𝐧𝐚𝐧𝐜𝐢𝐚𝐥 𝐏𝐞𝐫𝐟𝐨𝐫𝐦𝐚𝐧𝐜𝐞

Mr McCann reported that global markets had performed well in 2023 after a weak 2022 and this was reflected in the fact that total funds available to the RCB increased by 6.5%. Over the past five years there had been an increase in General Funds from €191m in 2019 to €235m by the end of 2023.

The RCB relies on General Funds to generate income to pay for allocations and operational costs. Mr McCann said that during 2023 General Funds achieved a Total Return for the year of 9.8%. The RCB’s income for the year was €7.8m while expenditure was €7.2m, leaving a surplus of €600,000.

Based on this, a sub–group reviewed the basis of the calculation of the sustainable withdrawal from General Funds (for the first time in five years) and proposed a modest increase in the allowable withdrawal from 3.5% of the previous five–year average opening General Funds balance to 3.6%. This will release approximately €200,000 additional monies to fund the Church’s activities. Given market and interest rate volatility, this will apply for two years only.

Referring to RB General Unit Trusts, Mr McCann reported that, reflecting the general upturn in the performance of their investments the Unit Price increased in RI from €4.21 in 2022 to €4.54 in 2023. In NI the unit price increased from £4.13 in 2022 to £4.25 in 2023. The RB General Unit Trust recorded an annual increase of 10% in each jurisdiction.


Mr McCann stated that half of all expenditure goes on staff costs with other main items of expenditure relating to CITI and theological training, the episcopacy, and General Synod and its committees. He said this breakdown would change in the coming years as new strategic initiatives are undertaken, including the introduction of Pioneer Ministry and potential changes to the funding of curacies and safeguarding.

𝐒𝐭𝐫𝐚𝐭𝐞𝐠𝐢𝐜 𝐅𝐨𝐜𝐮𝐬

Each year the Executive Committee holds a Strategy Away Day. At its Away Day last June the Executive reiterated that the primary objective of the RCB is to support the mission and ministry of the Church of Ireland, he said. Key focus areas include: providing a funding model for curacies, developing a funding strategy for third level chaplaincy, integrating Pioneer Ministry into the formal structures of the Church, developing a property and library strategy, extending the MindMatters mental health programme, developing a succession planning programme for the committees of the RCB.

He outlined a number of these strategic initiatives. Mr McCann said the RCB was committed to supporting Pioneer Ministry financially. The funding of the National Leadership Team is expected to be about €0.2m per year. It is forecast that five initiatives per year will start at an anticipated cost of up to €0.5m per year when the programme is fully operational.

He said that the MindMatters initiative was one of the most important projects supported by the RCB in recent years. During 2023 the Church Fabric and Development Fund committed €50,000 towards the second phase of the project and consideration will be given to the possibility of increasing the financial assistance.

Substantial monies remained in the Church of Ireland Flood Appeal Fund, he said and encouraged affected parishes to find application forms on the Property section of Parish Resources on the Church of Ireland website.

He highlighted the priorities of the RB Climate Change Policy: Energy usage, Transportation, Waste and Biodiversity. He stated that each of these is considered by the RCB as it develops policies for the life of the Church and as it manages its own operations.

He outlined developments in the Clergy Pensions Fund and the increase in the Pensionable Stipend.

Regarding Dignity in Church Life Policies, Mr McCann reported that there had been three successful applicants for admission to the Clergy Permanent Health Insurance Policy with another application pending. None had been rejected.

Turning to the consolidation of trusts he said that over the last number of months a team of solicitors operating on a pro bono basis had been working with the Property and Trusts Department with a view to bringing forward proposals at a diocesan level to amalgamate so of the over 18,000 trusts placed with the RCB into new trust funds which would operate in each diocese under four main headings: education, relief of property, support of stipends, and maintenance and upkeep of churches, parish properties, graves and graveyards.

Finally, he said that in the year ahead the future needs of the RCB Library would be addressed.

Drawing his remarks to a close, Mr McCann said none of this work could be done without the invaluable input of two groups of stakeholders: the staff of Church House and the members of the RCB. He recorded a number of changes to the staff including the retirements of Pauline Dunlop as Investment Administration Manager and Kate Williams as Head of Finance and IT and the departure of Special Projects Manager, Rebekah Fozzard. He thanked a number of staff who had retired and left during 2023 and welcomed new arrivals.

Seconding the report of the RCB, Dean Nigel Crossey, recalled that the RB Executive Committee had met eight times during the year and each meeting had been reported to the Representative Body of the Church of Ireland allowing members to ask questions and challenge any of the proposals from the executive committee. This, he explained, provided a transparent governance framework in compliance with the Charities Governance Code.

Dean Crossey said in setting the Executive Committee’s priorities there had been a noticeable shift from maintenance towards mission, from preservation towards outreach.

Highlighted areas of the RB report, he said that Pioneer Ministry was one of the significant and exciting initiatives that the RCB would be supporting over the coming years. Pioneer Ministry is an initiative to establish new ministry communities and church, he explained. Training for pioneer ministers is to be provided by the Church Army through the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. Pioneer ministers are supported by the Pioneer Ministry National Leadership team, with oversight by the Pioneer Ministry Council, and funding is provided by the RCB. It’s an initiative intended to enable and invigorate the mission of the Church, he added.

The RB had also recognised that there was also a need to support parish ministry which he said remained foundational to the life and witness of the Church. In this area the executive had been considering the provision of grants to support curacies.

He highlighted the advice and service provided by the staff of the RCB on issues surrounding compliance and safeguarding. During the year, he reported, the staff of the RCB developed a paper addressing the division of roles and responsibility between the RCB as policy developer and advisor and the dioceses having a responsibility for implementation. The Safeguarding Board have requested an external independent review of the governance of safeguarding and this review will be considered by the Safeguarding Board and the Executive Committee.

Dean Crossey also drew members’ attention to properties as the RCB is the primary trustee for the properties of the Church of Ireland. The executive has identified the need to review the property portfolio to determine their most efficient and effective use.

He also pointed to the staff organisation of the RCB and observed that with the refocusing of the Church’s priorities towards mission he would expect that over the coming years the RCB staff structure would need to evolve to address these changes.

Contributing to the debate on the report, Bishop Andrew Forster said it was good to see that the RB Report reflected that the RB was at the heart of the mission of the Church of Ireland. He said he was in awe of the expertise that is brought to the table of the RB as something of the discipleship of those members.

Addressing Bishop Andrew’s comments on the resourcing of curacies, the report’s proposer, Mr McCann, said, “In terms of the funding of curacies, I think, Bishop, you’ll find you’re preaching at an open door in relation to what you said on the funding of curacies. There is, I think, an unfair dichotomy in the parish itself having to bear the entire financial burden of sustaining a curate.

“Of course, there is an immediate and proximate benefit of the parish having an extra member of the ordained minister on the team; that, perhaps, has to be reflected some way financially. But the training of the curate is something that impacts on the long term health and survivability of the church as a whole, and I think it’s probably unsustainable to suggest that into the future that the entirety of the financial burden should have to rest with the parish in which the curate finds himself or herself. But, it is a work in progress and we will report back further in relation to that in the fullness of time – the ‘fullness of time’ being hopefully the Synod of next year.

Canon Andrew Orr, on behalf of Eco Congregation, thanked the RCB for their funding which enabled them to resource parishes in their climate related work at a local level. He said energy usage was the trickiest area for parishes to work at. He said there was not a lot of expertise but Eco Congregation was putting together a panel which could answer the questions of people from parishes who are addressing their energy usage.

Bishop Ferran Glenfield said there were churches all over Ireland orientated East/West and they all had rooves. He suggested that the rooves could be an asset for parishes with solar panels. He said there were opportunities to create energy for parishes and for their communities. “It is a no brainer … it is something we could contribute in urban and village streetscapes and even in rural parts,” he said hoping that parishes throughout the Church of Ireland could realise an energy dream.

Archdeacon Peter Thompson spoke about the age distribution of stipendiary clergy with a large proportion over the age of 56. He said the numbers coming in and going out don’t stack up and asked how the Church was planning for the future. He predicted that the shortfall in stipendiary clergy would be around 50% in six or seven years’ time.

General Synod approved the RCB allocations motion as follows:

That the General Synod hereby authorises the Representative Body to make the following allocations from General Funds in 2024:

A. Maintenance of the stipendiary ministry

• Episcopal costs €1,047,776

• Chaplaincy costs €317,328

• Miscellaneous €126,266

B. Pension related costs –

C. Training of ordinands €1,152,292

D.General Synod activities €1,205,048

E. Miscellaneous €16,461

F. Pioneer Ministry €241,377



Living out reconciliation in a conflicted world

General Synod Presidential Address by Archbishop John McDowell (May 10th, 2024)

The Church of Ireland’s Primate of All Ireland, Archbishop John McDowell, used his Presidential Address at the 2024 General Synod in Armagh to explore how members of the Church could live out a life of reconciliation. The General Synod was returning to the city for the first time since 2018. a

“We do not live in a world that has the appearance of being reconciled and at peace in any sense,” the Primate remarked. “There are many parts of the globe, as we sit here today, where people experience life as a perpetual night; a black darkness even at the midday.” Reconciliation requires love, in the sense of “our goodwill and benevolence towards our neighbours” and being “what binds people together against hatred and dishonesty.”

On the issue of migration, Archbishop McDowell asserted that Ireland was not ‘full’. “Ireland, North and South, has been right to welcome migrants and asylum seekers,” he said. “In one sense, such incomers made Ireland catholic – as in universal and diverse – in a way we hadn’t been before,” he said. “Perhaps not enough thought was given to how to integrate those newcomers and their needs into society, and what that means for social and physical infrastructure. That oversight does not excuse us from our responsibility to seek justice for our neighbour. Political failures cannot disapply the law of love. If the well-being of our neighbour (wherever they may have come from) is becoming more precarious, then we are called through the law of love to work even harder for justice.”

When dealing with any complex moral or theological matter, he suggested that “we first ask ourselves should we speak or act about this matter at all?” If there was a need to contribute to the issue, the Primate noted that the Church of Ireland’s method had been to refer it to a group made up of clergy and lay people, of wide-ranging opinions and backgrounds.

“All this is to ensure that what we will say is indeed free decision taken in consultation, and after careful thought and prayer. The cohesion and unity of the Church of Ireland since Disestablishment has only been achieved through this continual, patient wrestling over time with complex issues, avoiding simplistic answers to difficult questions. And in that wrestling with issues we must above all respect the dignity of each individual.”

Archbishop McDowell’s sermon can be read in full below:

Brothers and sisters in Christ,

Although this is the fifth Presidential Address I have had the privilege of delivering since my election as Primate, it is the first time I have been able to do so in Armagh. That I am able to do so now is a particular delight to me as I know that this city holds a very special place in the hearts of many people in the Church of Ireland. For many of us Armagh is a city of hope and of reconciliation and I particularly want to thank my brother in Christ and in Primatial ministry, Archbishop Eamon Martin, for the hospitality he has shown me since I came to live here and for the partnership in the Gospel which we enjoy. Archbishop Eamon hopes to be with us here in the Synod Hall for a time tomorrow and I know he will be warmly received by all of us who admire the way he has helped model reconciliation as a central aspect of his intensely busy ministry.

In my first Presidential Address in 2020 I highlighted the theme of reconciliation and committed myself to a path of reconciliation – between communities, between these islands, between ethnic groups, between ourselves and the earth that we live in, and alsowithin the Church of Ireland. I remain committed to that path, which has taken and will take different forms in different contexts. Reconciliation in the religious sense is a gift given to us by God in his Son, but it also a vocation – indeed a struggle – to engage in, as we work out patiently and sometimes painfully what it means in every aspect of our lives: our personal lives, our lives in our communities and our life in the world.

We do not live in a world that has the appearance of being reconciled and at peace in any sense. There are many parts of the globe, as we sit here today, where people experience life as a perpetual night; a black darkness even at the midday. I need hardly name such places – Yemen, Ukraine, Israel, Gaza, Sudan, South Sudan and many more. The commentators have allowed each one to slip from the headlines as a new conflict appears. We have no such option, as each should remain in our prayers and in our practical response. Not to give up once we have committed ourselves to some place or some body is truly Christian.

In previous Presidential Addresses, I have been happy to leave the business of the General Synod – our bills and resolutions and discussions – to the members of the General Synod and to those who will ably propose and second and speak to matters as they arise. I will do that again this year.

That leaves me free to say something about how we in the Church of Ireland might be present in today’s world and also to say something about our self-understanding – what we believe ourselves to be and how we exercise such moral authority as we have, in the name of Jesus Christ. Other Churches have other ways of living out their vocation as disciples of Jesus Christ, each way formed by providence through the processes of history. I make absolutely no claim that how we do so is the best way-merely that it is our way. It is the little offering which we bring into the treasury of the wider Catholic Church.

I want now to offer an outline of the particular manner in which I believe we should make our contribution to the ordinary life of the places where we witness, remembering that we live in a pluralist society and no longer seek to have either the first word or the last word, but hopefully we still have a word – and a distinctive word – to say in many areas of life.

As a follower of Jesus Christ, the principal questions which I need to ask myself at any time are: “how will what I do or say express my discipleship of Jesus Christ?” and “how will it contribute to the common good?” That is especially important for local or national Church Leaders and is crucial when we contribute to public debate.

Church Leaders are not party-political figures, nor are we the accredited representatives of any political community – and I cannot say plainly enough, we should not be so. Fortunately there are a large number of elected representatives from political communities who are able to speak and lead in that sense.

As a Church Leader I do not speak for, with, or to the Church, or to broader society in relation to political community. In many ways, the political or constitutional affiliation of Church of Ireland people is none of my business. An alignment of denominational and political affiliation has been too significant a feature of the history of this island, and has only succeeded in making many in society suspicious of where the Church’s conclusive loyalty really lies. 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 the Sovereign Lord of all peoples, a God of justice and mercy, 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. We who are called by his Name must behave according to His character.

Our guide in how we should follow our vocation – as individuals, as parishes and as a General Synod – is clear enough. We use these words in our Eucharistic liturgy, so they should also be familiar enough. They are these:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind, all your soul and all your strength, and your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

These few words are a summary of the whole revelation of the nature of God and of our response to that revelation. And the way we are called to respond is known as the law of love.

So, what do I mean by the law of love? And why do I believe it applies (including the claim of self-sacrifice) to groups as well as to individuals? Just to be clear, love in this sense is not a vague warm feeling nor intense romantic passion. Love is our goodwill and benevolence towards our neighbours. Love is what binds people together against hatred and dishonesty. It is powerful; it requires courage.

The law of love is the expression of the nature of God, therefore universal in scope but applying in different ways to individuals and to groups in society. For this reason, we need to discern and to differentiate which way we are dealing with, otherwise the claims of love will be applied irrelevantly and ineffectively.

To put it another way, the demand to love God calls for absolute surrender (“you shall love the Lord your God with all your…”). But the love of our neighbour is relative and limited; we are to love them as ourselves. In no case in civic life are we to prefer our neighbour’s interests to our own; we are required to put them on a level. For a community which includes ourselves and our neighbour, both may be required to temper their own or their group’s interest in the cause of the common good. Wider loyalties should act as a check on narrower ones.

Therefore, in terms of civic life the way of love lies not through altruism, but through reasonable claim and just award; in short, through justice. Within the Church, between its members, the true measure and expression of love is forgiveness. Among the groups which make up a society the true form and expression of love is justice. So long as society is organised in groups with diverging interests, so love must express itself first in justice.

Perhaps it is worthwhile reflecting on the common interests of church and society, or where these concerns overlap: that is, in the area of citizenship. Of what it means to be a good citizen. What are the distinguishing characteristics of a citizen in the modern world? It has been pointed out that in the ancient world, the world, say, of the New Testament, the answer was obvious enough. A citizen was someone who was not a slave. He or she was someone whose choices and identity weren’t owned by someone else.

Or as the lawyers today would say: someone who had the liberty to dispose of his or her own acts. Just like a citizen in the ancient world, a modern citizen is someone who has a voice in the community, who has certain legal protections and who has a significant say in the choices of their own life. So the citizen has the personal dignity of making a contribution to the community or society where they live – in the vision shared by the community. To be a citizen is to be responsible for maintaining your personal and social environment – which of course entails relationships to others. Citizenship means a voice guaranteed a hearing and a person protected by law.

The idea of citizenship was very important in the early days of Christianity. The Greek word (ekklesia) which we translate as ‘church’ was the word used in the ancient world for an assembly of citizens. The Church didn’t make up a new word for what they understood themselves to be when they gathered for worship or for debate; they simply used the familiar word that meant a gathering of citizens – of people who were guaranteed a voice and guaranteed responsibility.

From the very start, the Church said to its members that, ‘regardless of the political arrangements around you, there is anotherplace in which you have non-negotiable rights and a gift to share, a place where you have the dignity of being a decision maker and being able to contribute to where you live’. The Church – ekklesia. All of this had consequences for the wider communities that church members, like you and I, are part of. It still does.

Christianity is not an opting-out of political or social life and conversation. It does not aim to remove people from civic responsibility; on the contrary, it is the place where the deepest kind of civic responsibility is nurtured and carried out into the world. And what is the deepest kind of civic responsibility? To love your neighbour as yourself.

Part of the purpose of Christian community is to learn to treat people – every person – as capable of civic dignity and freedom; as individuals capable of contributing to their nearer and wider social and political environment by free decision taken in consultation. From that point of view, the citizen assemblies which we call ‘the Church’ are places where we argue and debate about what we understand is good for the whole of society.

Imperfect as our means of putting these ideals into institutional or procedural form may be, that is how we conduct our business and exercise our teaching authority, both within the Church and in the world. When we are faced with any complex moral or theological matter, we first ask ourselves should we speak or act about this matter at all? And if we do feel that we have something to contribute to the issue, our method is to refer it to a group made up of clergy and lay people, of wide-ranging opinions, from different parts of this island, of different sexes and identities, so that the matter can be studied and prayed about and debated. All this is to ensure that what we will say is indeed free decision taken in consultation, and after careful thought and prayer.

The cohesion and unity of the Church of Ireland since Disestablishment has only been achieved through this continual, patient wrestling over time with complex issues, avoiding simplistic answers to difficult questions. And in that wrestling with issues we must above all respect the dignity of each individual. That is how we proceeded on issues which may look plain enough in retrospect – issues like the ordination of women or the re-marriage of divorced people in church. We took our time and arrived at a what we believed to be an outcome that was faithful to Scripture and to tradition, and which could be reasonably argued and presented, and received by the Church. In other areas, despite years of deliberation – such as on Communion for children – we were unable to reach a consensus and we let the matter rest.

Christian citizenship, both in the ekklesia and in the world, is about people of flesh and blood and the realities of their lives. In hisCity of God, St Augustine outlines two kinds of human belonging-together and two kinds of love. Do we live by bearing one another’s burdens? Or do we live at one another’s expense? Those are the two great human options. If you go, however slowly or fitfully, for the first option you are helping to build up the City of God. If you live by any other principle, it isn’t just that you are going for second best, but you are really opting for a form of chaos, and the best you can hope for or achieve is randomly-controlled selfishness.

Indeed, what we have learned in our ekklesia should provide us with the antennae to detect when we ourselves, or any spokespeople in the public realm, are using language that demeans or diminishes human beings. We should be able to scent when they are telling lies about what human beings (and indeed God) are actually like. So when politics is dominated by creating fear and scapegoats, those antennae should spring into action. Because fear and division-generating politics is not mature political discourse. It’s not real politics. It is playing with paranoia, which is the dangerous opposite of serving the community and building the community with a spirit of love.

And those antennae, developed in our parishes and councils, are more important now than ever. The contemporary world faces a range of challenges which in number and in intensity is probably unique. Thanks to the scale and nature of media sources these days, there is a much greater consciousness than ever before of those difficulties and challenges.

Playing with paranoia in such conditions is currently the domain of populists of both left and right. But it is all too easy for élites and wider ‘respectable’ society to become infected by it. Many interests can become vested in maintaining division rather than in building community. It has been the mark of statesmen and women in history to identify problems and injustices and to solve them. It has become the mark of many in public life today to identify injustices and problems and to exploit them.

Populist politicians, activists and commentators address and exploit the vast complexity and unprecedented scale of the challenges we face, not with policies but with slogans. Slogans such as ‘Ireland is full’. Well, Ireland is not full. Ireland, North and South, has been right to welcome migrants and asylum seekers. In one sense, such incomers made Ireland catholic – as in universal and diverse – in a way we hadn’t been before.

Perhaps not enough thought was given to how to integrate those newcomers and their needs into society, and what that means for social and physical infrastructure. That oversight does not excuse us from our responsibility to seek justice for our neighbour. Political failures cannot disapply the law of love. If the well-being of our neighbour (wherever they may have come from) is becoming more precarious, then we are called through the law of love to work even harder for justice.

We are at an important moment not just in Irish or British history, but in world history. Is it to be a moment of breakdown or a moment of breakthrough? Neither breakdown or breakthrough are instantaneous or surprise events. They are always carried in the womb of history and are the product of conscious choices. History is not simply something which must be understood and endured. History is the process whereby we can make our world more humane and more just.

It is a process which, through conscientious decisions, can produce an “us” that doesn’t currently exist, but is latent in that womb. We can choose to be a people who are deeply involved in the nature of God and of one another, and who for that reason, abhor the threats of a malevolent fanaticism, whose only contribution to community life is hatred, bitterness and division. If we are deeply involved in the nature of God, how different our contribution to community life should be – in accordance with the law of love.

We are at a point in the history of the world when many things will change. Many things need to change. Many of our own darlings may disappear without trace. It may be we can preserve nothing but our values, through which, as the Bishop of Clogher said in his sermon earlier this morning, we “use our patience, skills, and loving care to help any who come near the church door. And the impact we may have to bring hope and healing is immeasurable through the grace of God”.

The question I want to conclude with is this: Given all that I have said about this hinge point in history and the moral seriousness of the hour, to which we are called to respond: who can carry this moment alone?

No-one can.

But we are not called to carry it alone.

As we approach Pentecost, where the gift of the Holy Spirit was given “when they were all together in one place” – as the whole of the Church of Ireland is in some sense today – let us draw on the resources we have been given:

All the promises of God and all the words of the prophets. The apostolic witness and the glory of the gospel, which has only reconciliation and life in it and nothing of division and death. The virtue and wisdom of the Irish saints – of Patrick and Columbaand Brigid – and the mists of sorrow and struggle through which they passed.

And we have each other.

God has not called us to be his voice and his compassion in the world and then left us bereft.

Exactly a week ago, during our four-day meeting in Rome, the Primates of the Anglican Communion had an hour-long audience with Pope Francis in the Vatican. In the course of his short address, the Pope spoke about the Primacy of the Holy Spirit and went on to say:

“We are called to pray and to listen to one another, seeking to understand each other’s concerns and asking ourselves, before enquiring of others, whether we have been receptive to the Spirit’s promptings or prey to our own personal or party opinions…God’s way leads us to cling more fervently to the Lord Jesus, for only in communion with him will we find full communion with one another.”

He was referring of course to ecumenical dialogue, but I hope his wise words find a welcome at the start of this General Synod.

May we find full communion with one another as we seek closer communion with the God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ: the Sovereign Lord of all peoples, a God of justice and mercy, who calls us by his Name.