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Walled City Passion – a story for our time

By Fiona Garrett

The centre of Derry-Londonderry came alive during Holy Week with mesmerising performances of Walled City Passion, a modern reimagining of the Easter story. Now in its second year, this immersive street theatre production – masterfully directed and written by Jonathan Burgess – captivated audiences with its exceptional cast and a harmonious blend of ancient and modern storytelling techniques.

This year, the creative team behind the Passion also introduced a fringe festival which explored themes related to conflict resolution, peacebuilding and community relations. 

During twice-daily performances of the drama, on the Thursday, Friday and Saturday of Holy Week, Stephen Bradley exuded serenity and depth in his breath-taking portrayal of Jesus, while Charlie Bonner’s ‘devilishly ordinary’ devil provided a relatable counterpoint. The impressive supporting cast included local star Dylan Reid as a cunning Judas and Andy Porter as Caiaphas. Margaret Hannon’s moving portrayal of the crippled woman who received the gift of walking from Jesus left some audience members in tears. Local performing arts students played a crucial role as extras, adding depth and authenticity to the performance.

The drama’s visual elements were equally impressive, notably Helen Quigley’s exceptional costume design and the use of striking props such as a crown of thorns and realistic stigmata makeup effects.

Walled City Passion is a stunning and unforgettable theatrical experience and, as the community embraces the drama, it is destined to become an eagerly anticipated annual event.

The ‘Passion + Fringe Festival’ offered a profoundly moving and thought-provoking experience for all who attended. Its first event, in St Augustine’s Church, delved into themes of peacebuilding, dialogue and the power of mediation in conflict resolution, with heartfelt contributions from Michael Doherty MBE and Brian Dougherty MBE. The former shared a chilling account of witnessing violence during the Bloody Sunday march, drawing connections to Jesus’s arrest and his message of non-violence. Brian Dougherty touched on the “Orwellian attitude” to politics in the region and the psychological impact of the siege mentality still present in some Londonderry communities. Smart leadership, hope, and building social capital were identified as core themes for the event.

The second session, held at the First Presbyterian Church, featured Bishop Andrew Forster, Rev Canon Judi McGaffin and writer Tony Macaulay. Their reflections on the Passion Play highlighted its emotional impact and the lessons it offered about fear, disappointment and the human capacity for redemption.

At the fringe festival’s third session, in Áras Cholmcille – St Columba Heritage Centre, a panel of distinguished trauma therapy professionals explored the human experience, focusing on trauma and healing. Prof. Derek Farrell MBE, Prof. Paul Miller, and university lecturer Lorraine Knibbs explored the importance of addressing trauma at both individual and societal levels, as well as the role of the Walled City Passion in facilitating conversations around this crucial topic.

Their discussion centred on the crucifixion scene from the passion play. The panellists emphasised the importance of not sanitising the brutality of trauma, and the need for open dialogue, professional support and community engagement in overcoming the lasting impacts of trauma.

The fringe festival’s concluding session, the Walled City Passion Symposium, provided an opportunity for attendees to meet and converse with writer/director Jonathan Burgess and Archdeacon Miller, who first conceived of Walled City Passion. 

Jonathan explained that what drove him as a producer was shining new light through old windows. “I like taking stories which people have expectations about and then burning them about and making them into something else.”

Archdeacon Miller explained that he had previously seen a Passion play in Manchester which had been inspired by the Manchester music scene. It inspired him to do something “like it but different”. He said the appeal of playing the new drama out on the famous city walls came from the fact that years ago the walls were regarded as a ‘no-go area’.

The ‘Passion + Fringe Festival’ was a truly enriching and inspiring experience for all who attended. The event offered a unique opportunity for participants to engage in meaningful conversations on topics such as peacebuilding, trauma, and the power of artistic expression in promoting healing and understanding.The event served as a potent reminder of the importance of hope, leadership and the power of human connection in overcoming conflict and building a more compassionate society.

Archbishop shares Rwanda’s journey from genocide to peace

Clergy from throughout the Diocese of Derry and Raphoe heard a graphic account of one of the bloodiest genocides in history, today, from the Archbishop of Rwanda, Most Rev’d Dr Laurent Mbanda. The Archbishop – who is in Northern Ireland with Tearfund and is being hosted by the Diocese of Down and Dromore – visited Londonderry to share with clergy about the journey of reconciliation which Dr Banda said had now made Rwanda the fastest growing economy in Africa.

Dr Mbanda was accompanied by his wife, Chantal, and Tearfund’s Country Director for Rwanda, Rev’d Emmanuel Murangira. Their itinerary included a question-and-answer session between the Archbishop and Bishop Andrew Forster.  

The Rwandan church leader said that he had lost four members of his extended family during the 1994 massacres which claimed the lives of around 800,000 people over a 100-day period. He also revealed that he, himself, as “one of the hunted ones” had been on a death list. “It was a time when you would see bodies everywhere,” the Archbishop said. “You had a number of people who said, ‘These are your people. You are not grieving.’ Well, there was no time to grieve. It was almost like you were numb…That was a very difficult time – to see death, to look death in the face…I was one of the people that was being hunted.”

Archbishop Mbanda talked about the Churches’ role in the Rwandan peace process which has transformed the country in the three decades since the genocide. His wife, Chantal, spoke to clergy about the huge impact and powerful influence of Mothers’ Union in Rwanda – and of the Fathers’ Union there. And Rev’d Murangira talked about the impact of the East African Revival upon his own family and the wider region.    

Bishop Andrew Forster said he was honoured to welcome the Rwandan visitors to the Diocese, describing them as brothers and a sister in Christ. He led the clergy in prayers for the Mbandas, for Rev’d Murangira and for their companions from Tearfund, Chris Thompson and David McAllister MBE.

Bishop Andrew thanked his guests for the richness of fellowship which they had shared in the Diocesan Centre before. “Father,” Bishop Andrew said, “we are touched and deeply moved by how dreadful and awful conflict has become a beautiful transformation through reconciliation. We are touched by how those who were perpetrators of violence and victims of violence have been able to find a way forward. We are touched to hear of [how] a country that just 30 years ago was a byword for pain and division and genocide, has become a place of hope and a place of energy in the heart of Africa. We pray for your blessing on the nation of Rwanda and we pray for your protection of that nation.”

The Africans’ visit was the highlight of a Continuing Ministerial Development Day for diocesan clergy. The day had begun with a Service of Holy Communion in St Columb’s Cathedral, which had been led by the Dean of Derry, Very Rev’d Raymond Stewart, assisted by Bishop Andrew and by Rev’d Canon John Merrick. The CMD day ended with Bishop Andrew presenting a Celtic cross to Archbishop Mbanda, to remind him of his time in Derry and Raphoe, and also a copy of the Common Prayer Book, signed by all the clergy present.

Walled City Passion – tickets on sale!

Tickets for the Walled City Passion have gone on sale at the Millennium Forum Box Office (on 02871 264455) and can also be booked on the theatre’s website at

The production, which is becoming an annual event in the city’s calendar, looks at the story and message of Christ’s ministry around the final few days of his life. Performances will be staged twice daily over Easter, on Thursday 6th, Friday 7th and Saturday 8th April.

The production will be mounted as a promenade performance around the historic city walls, commencing at St Columb’s Cathedral and concluding at the Guildhall, using the city’s unique heritage as a backdrop to the most famous story ever told.

Writer, Jonathan Burgess, says this year’s production will be different from the Walled City Passion of last year. “Last year, we went ‘all out’ after coming back from Covid and the project – which had always been envisaged as a live performance on the walls – became something entirely different when other media became involved. This year, we’re making the story a little more traditional than last year and taking it back to the vision of a live promenade production around the city-centre.”

Archdeacon Robert Miller, who is one of the show’s producers, says: “The play is at the heart of the project which we intend to bring back to the walls every year. We want to create a signature event that people will travel to see. The project, isn’t only concerned with the show, though; there are other fringe events, talks and theatre workshops which unpack the message of the Passion story and examine its relevance in today’s world.”

Performances will be staged at 12.30pm and 3.30pm on Thursday 6th, Friday 7th and Saturday 8th April, commencing at the Church of Ireland Diocesan Office.

Canon David McBeth ‘thrilled’ by new appointments

The Rector of All Saints Clooney, Rev David McBeth, has been appointed a Canon of St Columb’s Cathedral and Rural Dean for Derry, in both cases succeeding Rev Paul Whittaker who retired last weekend.

The new Canon shared the news with his parishioners on Sunday morning. He described the news as “a thrill” not just for himself but for his family and said he was “blown away” when Bishop Andrew told him about the appointments.

“In 2016, I was honoured to be awarded a British Empire Medal in the late Queen Elizabeth II’s Birthday Honours,” Rev McBeth said, “but the news of these appointments surpasses even that. I’ve been in the diocese all my life and this is the highlight of my ministry.

“My favourite bible verse is Jeremiah 29:11: ‘I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to hurt you, plans to give you hope and a future.’ I’ve tried to follow God’s plan and he’s certainly blessed me for the future. I see my future ministry as doing the best I possibly can to serve Him and fulfil my calling in ordained ministry.

“I’m relatively well known in the Diocese,” Canon McBeth said, “and I feel that as Rural Dean I’ll be able to bring something to parishes that are experiencing vacancies. So, I look forward to the challenge and really hope that I will be a blessing to people.”

A date has yet to be arranged for the Service of Installation at the cathedral but the two appointments take effect immediately.

Encouraging turn-out for first post-Covid Confirmation Day

Around 40 young people attended our first post-Covid Confirmation Day, in Stranorlar, on Saturday 25th February, 2023. They gathered in the Parish Hall, next to St Mary’s Church, for a day of biblical teaching combined with activities.

The get-together was organised by the Diocesan Youth Officer for Derry and Raphoe, Claire Hinchliff, who was assisted by our Children’s Ministry Officer, Kirsty McCartney, and the chairperson of the Derry and Raphoe Youth Board, Rev Peter Ferguson.

There were around a dozen adult leaders there to ensure that the Diocese’s safeguarding responsibilities were met.

The young people were addressed by Bishop Andrew, who will be confirming them later this year. The Bishop said that those different Confirmation Services would be among the biggest privileges of 2023 for him.

Claire declared the day a huge success from the diocese’s point of view. She said she and the other leaders were greatly encouraged by the number of young people who came along. More importantly, she said, the day was a great success for the dozens of young people who engaged in the teaching and games, made new friends, and whose preparation for confirmation was enhanced by today’s experience.

Bishop condemns attempted murder of police officer in Omagh

The Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Right Reverend Andrew Forster, has condemned the attempted murder of a police officer in Omagh, on Wednesday evening, as “callous and evil”. The off-duty officer was shot a number of times at a sports complex on the Killyclogher Road and was taken from there to Altnagelvin Hospital in Londonderry for treatment for his injuries.

You can read Bishop Forster’s statement, in full, below:

“The attempted murder of a PSNI officer in Omagh, on Wednesday evening, was a crime against God and a crime against man.

“The attack was callous and evil and will be condemned by all right-thinking people. There is no justification for this kind of violence in our society. The fact that this happened in close proximity to children highlights the wickedness and recklessness of the perpetrators.

“I offer my prayers for the injured officer and his family, and pledge my support to his colleagues in the PSNI. I appeal to anyone with any knowledge about this crime to give the information to the police.”

Wednesday’s attack was also condemned by the Rector of Drumragh with Mountfield, Rev Graham Hare. “Everyone at St Columba’s Church is shocked and deeply saddened by the violent shooting of an off-duty police officer at Youth Sport this evening,” Rev Hare said. “Violence of every kind is to be condemned, all the more so when it is witnessed by children. This evening we pray for the injured officer, for all who attended the scene and for comfort, strength and peace for all who have been impacted, most especially the family of the victim.”

Bishops’ Appeal 50th anniversary video

A video marking the 50th anniversary of the Church of Ireland Bishops’ Appeal for World Aid and Development was presented at our General Synod in Belfast, last May. It includes contributions from those involved in organising the work of Bishops’ Appeal and agencies which have benefitted from its support over many years.

Given the recent and continuing disaster following the earthquake in Turkey and Syria, this might be an appropriate time to reflect again on the valuable work done through Bishops’ Appeal.

Transplantation – ‘the gift of life’

St Augustine’s Church in Londonderry was the venue, on Sunday afternoon (12th February 2023), for a Remembrance Service with a difference – one held to honour those who had been associated with renal services in any way.

The poignant service was organised by the Altnagelvin Renal Support Group and led by the Rector of St Augustine’s Church, Rev Nigel Cairns, who is the Church of Ireland Chaplain to Altnagelvin Hospital. The Rector was assisted by the Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev Andrew Forster; the Vicar General of the Diocese of Derry, Fr Michael Canny (representing the Bishop of Derry, Dr Donal McKeown); and Diocesan Reader Mr Sean McClafferty. Among those in the congregation was consultant surgeon, Mr Zola Mzimba, who is a Deputy Lieutenant for the Borough of County Londonderry, and who was accompanied by his daughter, Niamh.

The service sought to remember all those whose lives (or whose family’s lives) had been involved in some way with renal services, including those who had died because of renal failure; those who had died for some other reason and had donated organs, including kidneys, to give someone else a chance of a better life; and living donors who had donated a kidney to give someone else a chance of a better life.

The guest speaker at the service was transplant consultant, Dr Aisling Courtney, from Belfast City Hospital. Dr Courtney talked about the impact that transplantation had made in the lives of those who had received organs. “Kidney transplantation, as well as transplanting other organs, makes such a massive difference to people that really it’s hard to put into words. There are those of you here who have experienced that for yourselves in terms of the transformation of your health with transplantation.”

Dr Courtney said that every time she and her team “plumbed” a kidney in, they were conscious that it was a kidney that had come from somebody else as a gift. “Every time we give the gift of life to someone in transplantation – unless it’s given from a living donor kidney – it’s the tragedy of loss, and some of you here will feel that, and feel that keenly.”

The consultant wove a number of biblical references into her address, reminding the congregation of a verse in Revelations which talks about where we can go to with no more sorrow and no more death.

“I don‘t know if you’re aware,” Dr Courtney said, “but the Bible talks about transplantation, as well. There’s a verse in Ezekiel – Ezekiel 36:26 – where God says, ‘I will give you a new heart’. I will take out of you your stony heart, your hard heart, your diseased heart. And we all have bits in our heart that we hope nobody else knows, parts that we’re not proud of, parts that are sinful. But God says, you know what, I can do a heart transplant on you; I can take away the heart that’s diseased and I can give you a new heart.”

Music for this afternoon’s service was provided by the Altnagelvin Hospital Choir, under the direction of Dr Derek Collins, who accompanied the choir on the organ. Afterwards, the congregation enjoyed refreshments in the adjoining parish hall.

Toddler brightens up Church unity event

A minister’s young son provoked joyful laughter in Clooney Methodist Church when he interrupted an evening service arranged by churches in Londonderry’s Waterside area to mark the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. It was part of a joint initiative, on Wednesday 25th January 2023, which drew around 80 people who walked to each other’s churches, sang hymns and prayed together to celebrate the occasion.

The ecumenical event began in All Saints, Clooney, where participants were welcomed by the Rev Andrea Cotter. Rev Cotter told those present that the theme for this year’s week was ‘Be-Longing: praying for unity amidst injustice’. Globally, the week was focusing on the injustice of racism, but here the service was being adapted to take account of issues such sectarianism and prejudice, too.

The congregation sang a number of hymns at All Saints before making their way the very short distance to Clooney Methodist Church, virtually next door.

There was laughter when the youngest member of the congregation rushed to the front of the church to join his father – the minister, Rev Peter Morris! Rev Morris performed a minor miracle of sorts by continuing to lead worship while keeping a gentle, restraining hand on his son. The youngster discovered that thumping his father’s microphone could make a funny noise in the church’s sound system – much to the congregation’s amusement and his father’s embarassment.

There was less drama during the third and final part of the joint service, which took place in St Columb’s Church. The 80 participants walked up Chapel Road to the church. Worship there was led by the Parish Priest, Fr Michael Canny, who invited those present to challenge racism and sectarianism wherever they encountered it.

Afterwards, the dozens of walkers enjoyed refreshments together in the parish hall beside St Columb’s Church before going their separate ways.

Christian Unity walk 2023

Around 40 members of the four main Churches in Derry-Londonderry, including the city’s two bishops, took part in a walk through the city centre on the evening of Monday 23rd January, 2023 to mark the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

The participants had gathered outside First Londonderry Presbyterian Church, inside the City Walls, for the start of this year’s walk, which had as its theme, ‘Be-Longing: Praying for Unity amidst Injustice’.

The Rector of St Augustine’s, Rev Nigel Cairns, explained that they would be walking “as one people, united under God”, and stopping at various points for a bible reading, a commentary, a reflection and a prayer.

Before they set off, Bishop Andrew Forster led the first of these, which included a commentary on institutional injustice. “Many have experienced pain, rejection, abuse and exclusion within the Church,” Bishop Andrew said. “A Christian expression of unity must include everyone, and offer healing and justice.”

The itinerary for the prayer walk took the participants along Butcher Street, where they stopped opposite the Maldron Hotel for a reflection by First Derry’s minister, Rev Colin Jones, on racial injustice, which pointed out that “All of humanity, people of all ethnicities, cultures and languages together represent the image of the Creator”. The group then moved down Shipquay Street, past the Guildhall, and along Foyle Street, where Fr Gerard Mongan, from Long Tower Chapel, delivered a reflection on injustice in society.

As the walkers continued on their way – via John Street, and a reflection from Catherine Hume, the Society Steward at Carlisle Road Methodist Church, on societal injustice – they passed Maurice Harron’s symbolic ‘Hands Across the Divide’ statue, before turning up Carlisle Road. There, outside the Kinship Care premises, the Archdeacon of Derry, Ven. Robert Miller, reflected on economic and community injustice. “We are blessed, and we are to bless others,” he said. We are loved and we are to love others. We are to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God together.”

The final reflection – ‘God calls us to walk humbly for justice’ – was led by Bishop Donal McKeown, outside Carlisle Road Methodist Church. “God calls us to honour the sacredness and dignity of each member of God’s family,” Bishop McKeown said. “Caring for, serving and loving others reveals not who they are, but who we are.”

Monday’s walk was organised jointly by Mrs Joan Doherty (Methodist Church), Rev Colin Jones, Fr Gerard Mongan and Rev Nigel Cairns. The event concluded with fellowship and light refreshments in the Methodist Church building.