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New Rector appointed for Desertmartin

The parishioners of Desertmartin and Termoneeny learned on Sunday 12th December that a new rector had been appointed for their parishes. Rev Philip Benson – a Bangor man – will be instituted on Friday 25th February, and will succeed Rev Mike Dornan who retired in October 2020.

The appointment was announced at this morning’s services in St Comgall’s Church in Desertmartin and St Conlus’ Church in Termoneeny, as well as in Rev Benson’s current parish, Kilwaughter and Cairncastle with All Saints in Larne.

The new rector was ordained a deacon in September 2014, serving his internship in the Grouped Parishes of Finaghy and Upper Malone. Following his ordination as a priest, in September 2015, he became curate in Larne and Inver with Glynn and Raloo. Philip is married to Carolyn, and they have one daughter, Hannah.

Rev Benson grew up attending Carnalea Methodist Church. He was educated at RBAI and Queen’s University, Belfast where he studied Theology. Prior to ministry, he was employed as a full-time youth worker and worked for Goldsmiths Jewellers. His interests include football, movies, music and history.

Columba 1500 Service

The Archbishop of Armagh, Most Rev’d John McDowell, was in Raphoe on Tuesday evening (7th December, 2021) to preach at a Service of Choral Evensong in St Eunan’s Cathedral which celebrated the 1,500th anniversary of the birth of St Columba.

The Service, which was led by the Rural Dean for Raphoe, Rev Canon David Crooks, featured the Choir of St Columb’s Cathedral, Londonderry, accompanied by its Organist, Dr Derek Collins. The Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev Andrew Forster, also took part.

In his sermon, Archbishop McDowell said he was delighted to be in the cathedral for the first time. “We have learned, funnily enough in Covid,” he said, “when we weren’t allowed to come into church, we have learned just how important buildings are to us. We were complaining for years about them being a millstone around our necks but they’re very often the places where we first encountered the holiness of God, where we have had significant moments in our lives and in the formation of our faith, and we cherish them: there’s much more to them than simply stone and wood.”

The Archbishop disclosed a “connection” with the patron saint whose birth was being commemorated and with the church in which the service was taking place: Archbishop McDowell was ordained a deacon on St Columba’s Day and was consecrated Bishop on St Eunan’s Day.

The Primate chose “the great Celtic inheritance of our Church” as one of the themes for his sermon. He said the Jesus Christ whom we proclaim and Columba served was the greatest figure in human history. “It was because Columba and those like him had a faith in that greatness, and had faith in the faithfulness of God, that despite all the mistakes they made – despite the largeness, the grossness, of their sins; his temper; the people who died because of the arrogance that he had – it was because he knew that he owed Jesus Christ a debt he could never repay that he was the great apostle that he was, who spread and helped to spread the gospel on the continent of Europe.

“So, when we think of Columba, let’s not think of him as a quaint figure in a window; he was full of flesh and blood, and it was because of that – God used his weaknesses as much as his strengths, as He does with the best of His saints – we remember him, the great passion of his ministry and the example that he has left to us.”

Among those listening to the sermon in St Eunan’s were two of the four surviving crewmembers of a curragh which was rowed from Derry to Iona in 1963 to mark the 1,400th anniversary of St Columba’s voyage to the island. The pair posed for photographs with the Archbishop after the Service.

Global Day Service

Members of Derry and Raphoe Mothers’ Union heard graphic accounts illustrating the extent and impact of domestic abuse when they attended a special ‘Global Day Service’ in St Columb’s Cathedral on Saturday 27th November, 2021. The service was held in support of the organisation’s ‘No more 1-in-3’ campaign, which this year has focused on gender-based violence and sexual abuse.

Saturday’s service was led by the Diocesan MU’s outgoing chaplain, Rev Canon Katie McAteer, who was assisted by Rev Lindsey Farrell and Rev Liz Fitzgerald. They were supported by the Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev Andrew Forster, who addressed the congregation, and the Dean of Derry, Very Rev Raymond Stewart, who symbolically blessed a basket of items for the domestic abuse services.

Canon McAteer said those gathered in the Cathedral were raising their voices “on behalf of the voiceless to say, ‘No more “1-in-3”’. We cry out to our loving, righteous God for an end to the devastating statistic that one in three women globally will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime.”

There was a poignant demonstration of solidarity with victims during a three-minute silence which was observed simultaneously in many countries. The local women sat in socially-distanced groups of three, in which the middle women covered their heads with purple scarves; these were removed as the silence ended, signifying their wish for an end to the ‘1-in-3’.

Among those present at Saturday’s service were the Queen’s Lord Lieutenant for the City of Londonderry, Dr Angela Garvey, and the Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council, Alderman Graham Warke. The service was addressed by women from three local organisations which help domestic abuse victims: Edel Fox from Omagh Women’s Aid; Mary McKenna from Donegal Domestic Violence Services; and Marie Brown, from Foyle Women’s Aid.

Ms Fox talked about the impact the pandemic had had on victims, and the challenges it had posed for groups like hers which sought to help victims. She said that every 17 minutes, on average, the PSNI received a phone call from someone needing help because of domestic violence.

Mary McKenna revealed that in the last year, the Donegal Domestic Violence Service had worked with women from Poland, Slovakia, Moldova, Morocco, Afghanistan, Venezuela, India, Nigeria, the Philippines, South Africa, Romania, Brazil, Egypt, Sudan and Syria. “The issues all of these women will tell us about is the cultural acceptance of abuse towards women in their community.” She said the biggest fear they had was being threatened with being returned to their country of origin without their children. “For any woman, the thought of losing their children is horrific and this is what keeps many of these women where they are.”

Marie Brown, of Foyle Women’s Aid, revealed that year on year in Northern Ireland, the incidence of domestic violence had increased, and was now at “epidemic levels”. Seventy percent of the victims were female, she said, and during lockdown the number of women Foyle Women’s Aid dealt with rose by thirty per cent. Ms Brown said that eight women had lost their lives [to domestic violence] during lockdown, and another two had died since lockdown ended, “so the situation is pretty stark”.

Bishop Andrew thanked Mothers’ Union for organising Saturday’s service. “I sat at my seat in the Cathedral and whenever we turned for the three minutes of silence, and to look down the Cathedral and to see those heads covered, I found it deeply moving but also deeply distressing, distressing to see the proportion – so many people – affected by this terrible evil, and it is an evil.”

The Bishop thanked the Mothers’ Union and its Diocesan President Jacqui Armstrong for raising awareness of domestic violence, but he said that all of us – male and female – needed to “own this” and share this message. “As a man,” he said, “we must carry this message beyond these walls, that we must be the people who call out domestic violence, who challenge domestic violence, who raise awareness of domestic violence.” He said the message shouldn’t be left solely in the hands of women; men also had to be “the messengers of the wilderness and the pain that so many live with because of gender-based violence”.

MU’s Diocesan President, Ms Armstrong, said more had to be done to get to the root cause of gender-based violence. “We as a society – and it’s not just Church it’s all our communities, between our schools, the GAA, hockey clubs, Girls Brigade, Girl Guides, Boy Scouts – all of us need to work together in the North and South of Ireland, with government help, to get rid of the myths about domestic abuse and get down to the grass roots and create the healthy relationships that Adel and Mary and Marie have been talking about.”

Remembrance Sunday 2021

Local church leaders gathered with hundreds of people at the War Memorial in the centre of Londonderry on Sunday morning, 14th November 2021, for a Remembrance Sunday service. The attendance was well up on last year’s, at which numbers were badly affected by restrictions introduced to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Among those who laid wreaths,. this morning, were the Queen’s Lord Lieutenant for the City of Londonderry, Dr Angela Garvey, and the Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council, Alderman Graham Warke.

The religious aspect of the ceremony was led by Rev Canon John Merrick from St Columb’s Cathedral. Readings were performed by the Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev Andrew Forster; the Vicar General of the Derry Diocese, Fr Michael Canny; and Rev John Montgomery from Carlisle Road Methodist Church.

After the ceremony, the Dean of Derry, Very Rev Raymond Stewart, led a Service of Remembrance in St Columb’s Cathedral, where he was assisted by Canon Merrick.

In a deeply personal sermon, Bishop Forster talked to the congregation about his grandfather, Roger Charles Botley – who fought at the Battle of Ypres, and was later wounded and discharged from service – and his late uncle and godfather, RUC Constable Billy Forster, who was awarded the Queen’s Gallantry Medal for saving a man’s life as a car bomb exploded in Belfast almost 50 years ago. “I wonder who you remember today,” Bishop Andrew said, “with solemn gratitude and thankfulness, with a deep mixture of pride and grateful hearts?

“On this day, we, as a nation, fulfil our sacred duty of remembrance for those who held back the tide of war, for those who held back the tide of terrorist violence, so that you and I could sleep safely in our beds and live our lives peacefully. Today we acknowledge their service and sacrifice, and we fulfil our solemn duty by saying ‘We will remember them.’”

Sunday’s service was held in compliance with public health restrictions, which meant the traditional Poppy Appeal collection was suspended. However, as this year marks the centenary of the foundation of the Royal British Legion, members of the congregation were invited to contribute to the Poppy Appeal as they left the church.

Freedom Event for Young People

Bishop Andrew was the guest speaker at the second ‘Freedom’ event for young people in the North West, which took place in Richill Baptist Church in Londonderry on Saturday 13th November 2021.

The bible teaching event, which will be gathering on the second Saturday of each month, began in October. It aims to build a Christian friendship network that will build confidence and further discipleship among year 8s and members of local youth groups.

Derry and Raphoe’s Youth Ministry team was well represented at the event, with Diocesan Youth Officer, Claire Hinchliff, and Scripture Union’s E3 Schools Officer, Rachel Miller, among the trio of leaders, although the ladies were outshone in the sartorial stakes by their colleague, Andy Lamberton, of Exodus North West, who donned a giant banana costume for the occasion – subtly indicating that he was ‘top banana’ this evening.

The chairman of Derry and Raphoe Youth (DRY), Rev Peter Ferguson, was there to lend a hand, and All Saints Clooney’s Rector, Rev David McBeth, and curate Rev Andrea Cotter, were there to support the event.

Dozens of young people got a great insight into their distinguished guest when Claire ‘grilled’ her boss in an impromptu Q&A session on stage. What does a bishop do, she asked (his role, Bishop Andrew said, was “to help ministers in the diocese to do their job and to support churches in their mission”); what was his favourite flavour of ice cream (“vanilla – very boring, but it is vanilla”); did he prefer cats or dogs (“dogs, definitely dogs…I have a dog, who’s 12, she’s called Benna and she’s very cute, but – when you’re a dog – 12 is very old”); where did he go to school (“I went to the best school in Northern Ireland, Sullivan Upper in Holywood”); what was his favourite way to eat potatoes (“I like baby boiled – a bit left of field, I know”); and what did he like to eat for breakfast (“toast – with usually just butter on it, but this morning’s toast had lemon curd on it” – which prompted a gasp among the audience)?

Raphoe Installation Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Omagh Church Celebrates 150th Birthday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Black History Month Summit

The Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev Andrew Forster, was one of a number of church leaders who addressed the ‘Black History Month Summit’ in Londonderry on Saturday 23rd October, 2021. The event – at the City Hotel in the city centre – was also attended by the Bishop of Derry, Dr Donal McKeown, and the chairperson of the Irish Muslim Peace and Integration Council, Shaykh Dr Umar al Qadri.

The conference was organised by the North West Migrants’ Forum to draw attention to the remarkable, and often tragic, history of the African people; highlight some of the key issues facing our Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities; and celebrate the rich and varied culture of people of African descent living in Northern Ireland.

A distinguished cast of speakers addressed delegates, including: the Chairperson of the UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, Dominque Day; the author and academic, Professor Verene Shepherd, from the University of the West Indies; Patrick Corrigan, from Amnesty International; Dr Livingstone Thompson, Chairperson of the African and Caribbean support organisation; and the North West Migrants Forum’s Director of Programmes, Lilian Seenoi-Barr.

Among the politicians there to lend support were the Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council, Alderman Graham Warke, the DUP Junior Minister, Gary Middleton, and councillors from different parties on the Council. Mr Middleton addressed the conference in person while his fellow Junior Minister, Declan Kearney of Sinn Féin, spoke to delegates virtually.

Bishop Andrew told delegates there was a question asked of Jesus in the New Testament – ‘Who is my neighbour?’ – to which Jesus gave the broadest possible answer. “Here we are as neighbours today,” Bishop Andrew said, “and I hope today’s a very significant day not just for us in the North West but across our region, across the island, as we celebrate Black History Month, as we celebrate the contribution that different people from different backgrounds, different races, different cultures [have made] – the richness that they bring to all that we do here in the city and beyond.”

Bishop Andrew told the conference that Senator George Mitchell – the American politician who chaired the peace talks that led to the Good Friday Agreement – said the Irish were very welcoming towards visitors but very suspicious of each other. “I think that was true 20 or so years ago,” the Bishop said, “but maybe our welcome towards visitors who are now ‘us’ – who are now part of ‘us’, are part of our community, who live with us as equals – maybe we’ve become suspicious rather than welcoming. Today is a day that helps us break down some of those divisions and helps us celebrate who we are as people made in the image of God. So, I’m thrilled to be part of today.”

Pet Blessing Service in Castlerock

Around 20 new faces turned up at Christ Church, Castlerock on Sunday 17th October, 2021 for an occasion that was something of a pet project for the local Rector.

Rev Chris MacBruithin had invited pet owners to come along to the parish’s first Pet Blessing Service. With a few minutes to go, the Rector wasn’t quite sure what kind of response his invitation might elicit but he needn’t have worried. The faithful – those on two feet and on four – justified his confidence in the idea and the Service proved a big hit with owners and pets alike.

New trustees commissioned at annual MU Diocesan Service in Omagh

Seven new trustees were commissioned to office for the Diocesan Mothers’ Union, this evening, in St Columba’s Church in Omagh. The women were commissioned by Bishop Andrew Forster during the branch’s annual Diocesan Service.

Restrictions introduced in churches to minimise the threat of COVID-19 meant the service went ahead without the usual pageantry that makes the annual service arguably the most colourful occasion in the diocesan calendar. However, former MU Worldwide President, Lady Eames, was in the congregation to lend her support.

The service was led by the Rector of Drumragh with Mountfield, Rev Graham Hare, assisted by the Rural Dean for the Omagh parishes, Rev Canon Robert Clarke, and the MU’s Diocesan Chaplain, Rev Canon Katie McAteer.

The women who were commissioned on Wednesday evening were Kathleen Finlay (Diocesan Secretary); Anne Smith (Action & Outreach Coordinator); Eva Wright (Worldwide Contact); Ivy Hartin and Averil Meehan (PROs); Janette Morrow (Indoor Members Contact); and Gladys Barnett (Prayer Circle Contact).

Addressing the socially-distanced congregation, Bishop Andrew said it was a joyful and important occasion. “These offices carry great responsibility for Mothers’ Union is a worldwide organisation whose members seek to express the Christian faith by the transformation of communities worldwide through the promotion of stable marriage, family life and the protection of children.”

The sermon was preached by the All-Ireland President of Mothers’ Union, June Butler MBE, who pointed out that it was Prisons Week for the Diocesan Mothers’ Union. Mrs Butler mentioned the “great plans” the branch had – as part of its outreach – to support the family centre at HMP Magilligan. She said she had gained some insight into the prison environment over the last 20 years, including during a case study in Edinburgh Prison (when she was “horrified” by the starkness and the “echoey noise”) and on visits to Hydebank, which she found much less austere.

Mrs Butler said Hydebank had since changed its name to Hydebank Wood College and was focusing on rehabilitating prisoners for release. “The focus,” she said, “is on helping prisoners not to re-offend, giving them skills not only to find employment but psychologically to cope with our changing world and the expectations outside prison walls.”

The experience had made Mrs Butler think about loss of liberty. There were many in the world today who were imprisoned – some physically as punishment, but sadly many more for political reasons.

“However, we mustn’t forget that many of us, and of our families and friends, may also be prisoners today. Prisoners do not have to be behind physical bars; confinement happens in many different ways but especially in our minds. It would be impossible to speak to you again, this September 2021, without mentioning COVID and the effect that it’s had on so many lives over the last 18 months. Many did – and many still do – feel imprisoned in their own homes. Mothers’ Union throughout Ireland has been doing so much to help those who were this type of prisoner. They couldn’t or didn’t feel safe being in their own home so Mothers’ Union members rose to the various challenges and did the shopping, collected medicines, made regular phone calls, sent cards, delivered goodies and small gifts – just to let them know they were not forgotten. And, of course, that’s still continuing.”

Mrs Butler also referred to those who felt lonely for reasons other than COVID. She said an MU working group – under Lady Eames – would be issuing guidance, shortly, for the lonely on for those who wanted to help the chronically lonely.

“And then there are those who are imprisoned in other ways – those who find difficulty getting head space to work out solution to what for others may be minor problems; those of us who may be imprisoned by our misconception of others; those who have real mental health issues; those who are in their personal prisons of addiction with drugs or alcohol; those who are confined by their traditions – especially in this country – and cannot see beyond the boundaries of their so-called religious background. And, of course, the areas in which Jacqui – your Diocesan President – has been working to such great effect to raise awareness about gender-based violence.”

There were dozens of references to prison in the Bible, Mrs Butler said – most notably in the case of St Paul – the “imprisoner” of Christians who came to describe himself as a prisoner of Jesus Christ. Prison was often used as a metaphor for various forms of human distress, she said. But there was a repeated emphasis on God as a God who wanted to set the captive free and break the chains of bondage.

“It is the same God who is with all prisoners today, to help them endure their time away from family and friends, and consider their future. It is God who is in the hearts of those who are in the business of rebuilding lives and re-educating for a future beyond prison walls. And it’s that God who’s made a covenant with us that we will work to help others – guided by His Holy Spirit – but also, He is with anyone and everyone of us who may feel confined in our own personal prisons, and we must all learn to lean on and be guided by Him.”