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Flora, fauna and fellowship at fun day in Gortin Forest

Our SEEDS Children’s Ministry chose a magnificent day for youngsters to see the splendour of God’s creation during a visit to Gortin Glen Forest Park in County Tyrone earlier today.

The children were there for a special Family Fun Day for young people with additional needs and they were rewarded with a bright, dry day, with no rain to mar their enjoyment.

The day began with hymns followed by games in the ‘Forest Classroom’, where the children – and the adults – learned how to pot sunflower seeds, which they were invited to take home with them and grow to their full height.

The ‘classroom’ was then moved outside, into the woods, where the youngsters were led on a sun-dappled walk along leafy, tree-lined forest paths, stopping along the way to learn about the flora and fauna in this beautiful part of the world. The highlight of day was seeing the sika deer close up in their enclosure. And one of the children even got to use the diocesan camera – taking a couple of photos which are featured below.

Volunteers from a number of parishes served as leaders for the day, assisting our Diocesan Children’s Ministry Officer Kirsty, and our Diocesan Youth Officer Claire, by supervising the day’s activities. And occasionally, when time allowed, a few of the adults reverted to childhood, testing themselves on swings and other park attractions.

The day concluded with some children and grown-ups picnicking in the forest while others chose to stop off for a treat on the way back home.

New Rector called to the “Promised Land of Leckpatrick and Dunnalong”

The new Rector of Leckpatrick and Dunnalong, Rev Andrea Cotter, was instituted on Friday evening (April 19th, 2024) at a service in a packed St Patrick’s Church in Ballymagorry, which drew many of her new parishioners from Bready and Ballymagorry, along with parishioners from All Saints Clooney – where she had served her curacy – and friends from Ballymena where she had lived prior to her ordination.

The Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev Andrew Forster, earned loud cheers at a celebratory supper afterwards when he told guests that Andrea had come from the Diocese of Connor – for whom her husband, Richard, worked – but that he thanked God for having brought her to “the Promised Land” of Leckpatrick and Dunnalong.

At the beginning of the service, Bishop Andrew said it was his great pleasure to welcome the congregation to what he called “this momentous occasion as we institute Andrea as the new Rector of Leckpatrick and Dunnalong churches. So, it’s wonderful to see the church so full tonight; the sun is shining; we’re smiling and we’re going to have a wonderful evening together in the presence of almighty God.”

Turning to the new incumbent he said, “It’s wonderful tonight to see many of the threads of your life, Andrea, represented in the congregation. You have family, you have friends from Ballymena days, including the Rector of Ballymena; you have friends who trained with you in ministry; you have the wonderful parishioners of All Saints Clooney who have nurtured you and loved you as you loved them during your curacy; and you have all these new friends and family whom you will meet. So, it’s wonderful to see so many of you here tonight, and I want to give a special welcome to clergy from other denominations in the area who are with us this evening. We appreciate your presence and your prayers with us.

“Andrea has been a blessing to All Saints Clooney and a blessing to our diocese, and it filled my heart with joy whenever she was nominated to me to be rector of these parishes. And I know she will serve you with diligence, with grace, with determination and with love. So, thank you, Andrea, for responding to God’s call to serve these parishes, to be here and to love God’s people as you share your love for him.”

Rev Cotter was mentored during her curacy by Clooney’s Rector, Rev Canon David McBeth, who preached the sermon. “No one here, tonight, is a spectator,” he told the congregation. “Each one of us has a part to play in the ongoing drama of God’s plan and purpose – both in our individual lives and in the world around us.”

He told them that Andrea had been called by God to lead her two new parishes into a God-ordained future. But she wasn’t the only one who was being called this evening. “We’re all called – clergy, laity – to continue God’s work, and now is the hour to consider what that call might have been to each and every one of us.

“To the people of Leckpatrick and Dunnalong, congratulations. Congratulations. You have called as your new rector one of the finest young women I have ever known. But I want to tell you a few things about her.

“Don’t let this little, innocent face fool you! Number one: be careful what she gives you. We were all at a clergy conference a couple of years ago and she gave us all Covid. She’s the only minister I know who knocked down about 52 ministers in one go. So, be careful what she gives you. But she also has a great sense of humour. She enjoys a good bit of fun, a good laugh and a good joke.”

Canon McBeth said the new rector was no ‘softie’ and that her husband, Richard, would certainly know about that. “Andrea is the boss. When she says, ‘Jump’, Richard says, ‘How high?’ And, in fact, it was getting that way with me. I was wondering who was the boss? She was telling me to do this and do that. To be honest, I was terrified not to do it.”

Turning to serious matters, though, Canon McBeth said Reverend Andrea had been an exceptional minister. “She is a strong theologian, a creative liturgist, a provocative preacher, a fine administrator and, most of all, she has a pastor’s heart. She is kind, she is loving and she is caring.

“So I say to you, Leckpatrick and Dunnalong, be kind to your new rector. Treasure her as a gift, because she was certainly a gift to All Saints Clooney. She is a gift to the church universal, she’s a gift to the diocese and she’s a gift to your parishes in particular.

“Cherish her, but let her lead, for God has called her to be your spiritual leader. Trust her, for here is a rector that you can trust, and without trusting each other none of us can accomplish anything for the Lord.

“Andrea has come to you absolutely committed to doing powerful work for the Lord. Don’t hinder her. Listen to her. Support her. And help her accomplish the glorious mission God has for Andrea and you today. Grow together. Accomplish great things. Change the parish together. Together light a fire for Christ in this part of your church in the world, a fire that will draw many to its life-giving flame, a fire that will challenge some, comfort others, and always push back darkness.

“To my colleague, Andrea, remember whose you are. You belong to the Lord. He is the one who has called you and put you in this place.”

Bishop Andrew was assisted in the Service of Institution by the Archdeacon of Derry, Ven. Robert Miller, and by the Diocesan Registrar, Rev Canon David Crooks.

After the service, the congregation moved to the nearby Milliken Hall to enjoy refreshments and speeches. Rev Cotter addressed the gathering, thanking Canon McBeth for guiding her through the “two years, seven months and twelve days” of her curacy in Clooney.

Among those there to share her joy this evening were her husband Richard, her twin sister Emma, her brother-in-law, David McAleese, and nephews Graham, Austin and David.

In the concluding speech, Bishop Andrew referred to the new Rector’s “infectious personality”. He pointed out that he – like Canon McBeth – had contracted Covid from Andrea at that ill-fated clergy retreat.

Incidentally, Rev Andrea wasn’t the only person celebrating on Friday evening. Local parishioner Tommy Robb was enjoying his 86th birthday – an occasion made all the sweeter by a rousing rendition of ‘Happy birthday’ by everyone in the hall.

Parishes encouraged to seek Priorities Fund support

Parishes in the Diocese of Derry and Raphoe have been urged to consider applying to the Church of Ireland Priorities Fund which was set up in 1980 to support areas of ministry and social responsibility which were deemed to be in need.

The fund’s chairman, Roy Totten, was invited to address clergy from right across the diocese today by Bishop Andrew Forster, who felt that parishes here could be benefitting more from it, by devising projects that met the fund’s objectives and could draw down financial support. Mr Totten told the meeting in the Diocesan Centre that, since it was set up, the fund had allocated more than £21m in grants to parishes right across the church.

When it was first established, he said, the priority in the Church of Ireland was “spiritual and not material – in other words people and not buildings. We’re really keen to help you to reach out to people.”

Mr Totten explained how the fund operated. It was supported by “generous giving” in parishes in every diocese of the church. The committee then had “the responsibility and the privilege” of redistributing that money to projects which met certain criteria, to the tune of between £500,000 and £600,000 a year.

“Finances are focused on projects which help congregations to grow spiritually and to connect with people outside your worshipping communities,” he explained. There were four categories: training – lay and ordained; Christian education (to develop RE in schools, support children’s ministry and provide Christian education for adults); outreach initiatives – to encourage new and creative projects, including church plants and missional areas; and innovative ministry in a rural context, to encourage projects in sparsely populated areas, in rural or village settings.

Around half of the applications for funding fell within the ‘outreach initiatives’ category. “What we won’t do is pay a salary,” he said, “but if it’s something that is new within your parish and reaches people, we are willing to help with it. Grants can be for a two-year period but one thing you’ve got to understand is that we do not provide continuous funding for projects.”

Mr Totten encouraged parishes in sparsely populated areas consider starting projects that fell within the ‘innovative ministry in a rural context’ category. “We to find new forms of ministry that connect with rural communities,” he said.

Parishes were advised to visit the Priorities Fund website – – for more information. Applications for support are open from April until the end of October, and the committee then spends four months deciding which projects to support.

Clergy also heard about the benefits for parishes of engaging in global mission partnerships with dioceses in other countries. They heard a presentation from Crosslinks’ Mission Director, John McLernon, and its Ireland Team Leader, Richard Balmer, about some of the missionary work they do in more than 30 countries around the world.

Celebrating the impact of our Donegal schools

Principals, teachers and school management board members gathered in Letterkenny’s Mount Errigal Hotel this evening (Wednesday 17th April) to celebrate the achievement of schools in Donegal under Church of Ireland patronage.

The audience were treated to a presentation by Dr Jacqui Wilkinson from the Church of Ireland Centre at Dublin City University who shared a presentation on ‘Life in the Church of Ireland Primary School through the voices of the children’. It was based on interviews the academic had done with more than three thousand pupils at 92 Church of Ireland schools in the Republic to explore their attitudes towards school ethos.

Mrs Wilkinson’s research presented a very positive picture of life in these schools, giving the teaching professionals and managers much food for thought. 72% of the pupils attended a Christian place of worship “at least sometimes” and almost 90% of the schools held assembly and taught RE at least once a week. The vast majority of children found their schools to be welcoming and caring places, which taught them to respect others and care for the world around them. They also felt God was “very important” in their schools.

Mrs Wilkinson, who is a lecturer in Religious Education in the DCU Institute of Education, said in her experience, every school was different. Emphasizing the importance of parish-school links, she said that Church of Ireland schools shared many of the same values as other schools but it was their foundation in Christianity that distinguished them.

The Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev Andrew Forster, thanked Mrs Wilkinson for her presentation and for sharing the results of her research with the Donegal schools. He told the teachers present that they should never underestimate the impact they had on the lives of the children they cared for and educated. And he told the members of boards of management there that they were the people who were prepared to do “the heavy lifting” in their communities to make sure that their children’s welfare was protected, that their education was resourced and that they were blessed by what was happening in their school lives.

Bishop Andrew also thanked the Archdeacon of Raphoe, Ven. David Huss, for organising Wednesday evening’s event. Archdeacon Huss had opened the meeting, welcoming Dr Wilkinson and also singling out the recently appointed Moderator of the Derry and Donegal Presbytery, Rev Susan Moore, who was in the audience. Of the 31 schools in the county under Protestant patronage, 17 are managed by the Church of Ireland, 11 by the Presbyterian Church and three are under joint control.

City-centre churches work to build community cohesion

Clergy and members of the four main churches in Londonderry gathered in the city’s Guildhall on Tuesday afternoon for an event to celebrate their work together to build a better community for citizens young and old, and of all denominations. They were welcomed formally by the Mayor of Derry City and Strabane, Councillor Patricia Logue, who congratulated them on the work they were doing to build a better city and a more cohesive community. 

The afternoon of fellowship arose from an initiative begun two years ago by four inner city churches – St Augustine’s (Londonderry), Long Tower Chapel, First Derry Presbyterian Church and Carlisle Road Methodist Church. Since then, a number of other churches have ‘come onboard’, and that was reflected in the variety of people who came together for today’s celebratory meal at the Guildhall.

Among the church leaders present were the city’s two bishops, Rt Rev Andrew Forster and Most Rev Dr Donal McKeown; the new Moderator of the Derry and Donegal Presbytery, Rev Susan Moore; the Chairperson of the NW Methodist Mission, Rev Dr Stephen Skuce; the Archdeacon of Derry, Ven Robert Miller; the Dean of Derry, Very Rev Raymond Stewart; the minister at First Derry Presbyterian, Rev Colin Jones; the Rector of St Augustine’s, Rev Nigel Cairns; the Administrator of St Columba’s (Long Tower), Fr Gerard Mongan; Rev Peter Morris of Clooney Methodist Church; and Fr Stephen Ward (Long Tower).

Speaking at the start of the event, Bishop McKeown said this was a city and a community that had shown it believed in the resurrection. Early on, when politicians found it hard to even sit in the same building together, church people in the city were working hard, laying foundations, trying to build a better city.The Bishop singled out Mrs Joan Doherty, of the Methodist Church, for the work she had been doing to bring the churches together over recent years, and for helping to organise today’s event.


At its last meeting in October 2023, Diocesan Synod resolved that a Commission should be established to conduct a strategic review of our dioceses. We are now seeking expressions of interest from individuals who would like to be considered to become members of the Commission. 

Diocesan Council has agreed that the Commission should consist of the Bishop, the two Archdeacons, and up to 9 other members.

Further detail including information on the remit of the Commission is in the attached document. 

To express an interest in being a member of the Commission, please email including the words ‘expression of interest’ in the subject line and giving:

– a brief description of your role(s) held in parish & diocese.
– a brief outline of your special interests or areas of expertise.

Expressions of interest need to be received by 5pm on Friday 19th April.

Thank you very much for giving this matter your prayerful consideration. May the Lord continue to guide his Church for his glory.

With every blessing,

The Rt Revd Andrew Forster

Bishop of Derry and Raphoe

The Ven Robert Miller

Archdeacon of Derry

The Ven David Huss

Archdeacon of Raphoe

Tributes paid following death of former Diocesan Architect, Miss Caroline Dickson

Tributes have been paid to the former Diocesan Architect for Derry and Raphoe, Miss Caroline Dickson, who passed away in hospital last Friday after a short illness.

Miss Dickson retired from the diocesan role last year after 40 years’ service. Throughout those four decades, she worked diligently on the Diocese’s behalf, displaying formidable expertise when it came to work on buildings of great historical significance.

Last year, at the Diocesan Synod, a special presentation was made to Miss Dickson by Bishop Andrew to acknowledge the outstanding service she had given Derry and Raphoe.

Miss Dickson’s funeral will take place in her beloved local church, St Mura’s (Fahan) on Thursday afternoon at 2.30pm.

She was predeceased by her parents Christine and Peter Dickson and is sadly missed by her cousins, her fellow parishioners, her many friends and colleagues, and by the wider community in Fahan.

(Photo: last October, at the Diocesan Synod, Bishop Andrew made a presentation to the late Miss Caroline Dickson to mark her retirement after 40 years’ service as Diocesan Architect. The Bishop was accompanied by Ven. Robert Miller, Archdeacon of Derry)

Bishop Andrew congratulates “friend” and “brother Bishop” Alan McGuckian on new appointment

Bishop Andrew has congratulated the Bishop of Raphoe, Most Reverend Alan McGuckian, on his appointment as Bishop of Down and Connor, saying that he would miss their friendship greatly. The announcement was made earlier today by the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh, Most Reverend Eamon Martin.

Bishop McGuckian had served in Raphoe since his consecration in 2017. Bishop Andrew said his “friend” and “brother Bishop” would be greatly missed here.


“I congratulate Bishop Alan on his appointment as Bishop of Down and Connor and pray that God will continue to bless and guide him as he steps out in a new direction in his ministry to God’s people.

“As a brother Bishop, Alan has been an immense support to me, during good times and bad, witnessing faithfully to God’s calling. He is a man of profound spirituality and integrity, of great wisdom and discernment, of deep compassion and humility, with a keen pastoral heart. He has worked unstintingly to develop and improve relations between the different churches – both at home and abroad – and on a personal level, I will miss his friendship greatly.

“Alan will bring considerable gifts to those he will serve in his new role. Raphoe’s loss is Down and Connor’s considerable gain.”

Bishop thanks lay readers for their spiritual depth and commitment

Readers from as far away as Castlerock and Ballyshannon, and many parishes in between, converged on Raphoe this evening for a Service of Holy Communion for current and serving Readers, many of whom had led services this morning.

The Service was led by the Dean of Raphoe, Very Rev Liz Fitzgerald, and organised to acknowledge and celebrate the Readers’ contribution to ministry in the Diocese of Derry and Raphoe. 

The Dean was joined by Bishop Andrew Forster (who preached the Sermon); the Diocesan Warden of Readers, Rev Canon Derek Quinn; Rev Canon Robert Clarke (who is responsible for training Parish Readers); the Archdeacon of Derry, Ven. Robert Miller; and the Rural Dean for Raphoe, Rev Canon David Crooks. Many clergy from both dioceses were in the congregation.

Bishop Andrew began his sermon by acknowledging the many gifts Readers share in churches here, week in and week out. “I want to say thank you to all of you for your commitment, for your love, for your energy, for your spiritual depth, for the life that you’re bringing to parishes across the length and breadth of this Diocese because of your ministry as Parish Readers and Lay Readers. I want to say thank you. And in saying thank you, I hope you realise both the importance and the significance of what you do – the importance of what you do in leading the people of God in worship, and the significance of what that means not just for the people in the pew but in the wider community. I want to say thank you tonight for all that you do and all that you continue to do. And as you use your gifts – just as our Gospel reading explained – as you use those gifts, it seems to me that God increases those gifts, uses them all the more, allows us to reach out in even greater ways in ministry for him. So, thank you.

“I honestly believe,” the preacher continued, “[that] it’s the most wonderful thing in the world to be a follower of Jesus Christ, and it’s the most wonderful privilege in the world to serve him. Now, we can serve him with many different functions in many different places, but tonight I want to give thanks to God for all of you, for how you serve him in the context of liturgical ministry, leading, reading, praying and preaching. Thank you.”

Bishop Andrew told the congregation that what they were called to be were people “who shared the story”. It was like a modern-day page turner, he said. It was exciting, It was interesting. We wanted to see what happens. “For you and me –­ for all of us in ministry – I think God calls us to be people who ‘turn the page’, who keep the story going, who share the story in the world around us, because we know it’s a life-giving story; we know it’s transformative; we know it’s a story that is exciting and wonderful, and a story that the world needs. And in your ministry, as a Parish Reader, or as a Lay Reader, or for those of us who are ordained, never simply think of it as just about making sure a service happens. What you’re doing is making sure the story is shared, the story is told – the story that brings life and love and hope and peace and mercy into a needy world – we keep the story going.”

The Bishop drew the congregation’s attention to a verse in the New Testament reading from 1 Corinthians 14: ‘If you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in the gifts that build up the church.’ “Now, all of us are in leadership in the church, and our great call is to build up the church – the church of which Jesus says I will build my church and the gates of hell will not stand against it. But yet there is much that seems to pull down the building of the church nowadays. We’re smaller. We’re smaller in numbers – we know that – that’s why we need you so much. And sometimes when we’re smaller, we feel it’s just about holding on. We’ve a secular culture around us that in many ways wants to demean faith or, if not demean faith, ignore it completely. We live in a world that is suspicious of authority – sometimes for the right reasons – but has become suspicious of the authority of Scripture, for instance. Scripture says when the foundations shake, what will the righteous do? Well, try to excel in the gifts that build up the church.”

Bishop Andrew focused on three themes in his sermon: place, privilege and power. Place matters, he said. Columba saw the importance of place, building monasteries right across our Diocese – places that became mission stations sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ within those communities. “Place matters. The places that you serve matter. They’re important to God. They’re important to you. I really want us to recapture that Columban vision, to allow Columba’s spiritual DNA that is within us as a Diocese to come to the fore, that we would see all our parish churches as mission stations, places bringing light and hope and love into the community. That’s what you do.”

Often, the Bishop said, when he thanked Readers for leading a service, they responded by saying it was a privilege. “And it is a privilege, isn’t it?” he said. “It is a privilege to lead the people of God, to pray with the people of God, to open God’s Word with the family of God.”  Bishop Andrew said he would hazard a “fairly accurate guess” that the reason why the Diocesan and Parish Readers present were involved in “this great privilege of leading God’s people in prayer and in praise” was because they had been touched, blessed and overwhelmed by love – by the love of God, and by how his love had accepted them and won them over, had forgiven them and helped them and been gracious to them. “What a privilege it is to experience that love and then what a privilege it is to share that love in these places that matter, in these places that count, in these mission stations right across our Diocese.”

How do they do it, the Bishop asked? “We do it in the power of the Spirit…I want to tell you, whether you think it or not, you are gifted by the Holy Spirit of God. You might feel I don’t deserve those gifts or I didn’t ask for that gift – maybe, in fact, I didn’t even want that gift – but you are gifted by God. Ask God for his gifts so that you will build up the church…Gifts given by God – that’s what will make the difference, even in a culture that seems to turn its back on the Church. We will be found to be faithful because the place matters, because we understand the privilege, and because God empowers us through his Spirit to serve him.”  

Bishop Andrew had further words of gratitude, this time for Canon Derek Quinn and Canon Robert Clarke for all that they continued to do to see lay ministry grow and expand in our Diocese. And he thanked Dean Fitzgerald for organising Sunday evening’s service. 

Music for the service was provided by the Cathedral Organist, Renee Goudie, and by the men and women of the Cathedral Choir. And afterwards the congregation enjoyed fellowship and light refreshments at the back of the church. 

A video conversation for Holocaust Memorial Day 2024

The Archbishop of Armagh has in recent years marked Holocaust Memorial Day (27th January) with a recorded conversation on the theme chosen by the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust.

This year’s theme is the ‘Fragility of Freedom’ and Archbishop John McDowell met with Rabbi David Kale, of the Belfast Jewish Community, Mrs Shirley Lennon, from the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, and Revd Suzanne Cousins, the Archbishop’s Inter Faith Advisor.

If you wish to find out more information about Holocaust Memorial Day, please visit