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Special service marks centenary of Churches working together

The Irish Council of Churches – one of the world’s oldest national representative church bodies – celebrated its centenary with a special service of worship in Belfast Cathedral this afternoon (22nd January). The service, with the theme ‘Celebrating our Reconciling Vision of Hope’ took place on the eve of the Council’s first meeting 100 years tomorrow (23rd January 1923) at the height of the Civil War in Ireland.

Present were representatives from 16 all–Ireland member denominations, including the Most Rev Eamon Martin, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, and the Rev Dr Harold Good, former President of the Methodist Church, who both delivered an address. The service was led by the Dean of Belfast, the Very Rev Stephen Forde. The IICM is co–chaired by the President of the ICC – currently the Rt Rev Andrew Forster – and a representative of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference, currently the Most Rev Brendan Leahy, Bishop of Limerick, who also took part in the service.

The service also celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Talks, which led to the establishment of the Irish Inter–Church Meeting. In 1973, in the midst of The Troubles, the Council began ground–breaking historic talks in Hotel in County Louth with senior members of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland. Over the course of time, these became formalised as the Irish Inter–Church Meeting (IICM), the means by which the ICC continues to engage and collaborate with the Catholic Church.

Reflecting on this point in history, Archbishop Martin said, “Peace, reconciliation and forgiveness on this island will only be progressed by bringing to light the truths that remain hidden and festering about our troubled past, and by engaging in respectful conversations across our communities about what we mean by a shared future.

“It may seem ambitious, but might we in the Churches offer to help develop an agreed truth recovery process to address the legacy of pain and mistrust that continues to hang over us? And might our Churches also work together to create spaces for dialogue at parish, congregation and community level so that all voices can be fully heard about the kind of society and values we want for our children and grandchildren?”

The Archbishop continued by saying that it was a credit to the pioneers of Ballymascanlon that the congregation in the Cathedral “could gather today as true friends in Christ, and much closer companions on the Way, as brothers and sisters who can share each other’s joys and burdens and be open and honest about our successes and our vulnerabilities.”

Archbishop Martin’s address in full

Dr Good spoke of the Christian Churches bringing humility and hope to realising a vision of reconciliation. He said, “Let us not under–estimate the impact of the words of the late Queen Elizabeth during her historic visit to Dublin, when in humility she spoke of things which could have been done differently, or not at all. Just imagine if following this service, each of us was resolved to acknowledge the hurt which collectively – if not individually – we have inflicted upon each other and for which we now seek to be reconciled.”

Dr Good added, “Hope looks at the world as it is and responds with a determination to change it. The shared hope of which we speak is rooted in the unshakeable conviction that if we say and do and be the people that we are called to be, God will not be found wanting.” During his address he also referred to the forthcoming 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement and 60th anniversary of Dr Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech and noted that “at the centre of our shared faith is the unshakable belief in Resurrection. And, as the Easter people, it is to us that God has entrusted this Gospel of Hope.”

Dr Good’s address is available in full here

Members of the public joined representatives from the Irish Council of Churches and Irish Inter–Church Meeting at the service along with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the Rt Hon Chris Heaton–Harris MP; the Irish Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Simon Coveney TD; and the Lord Mayor of Belfast, Councillor Christina Black.

Full Order of Service

Speaking after the service Bishop Andrew Forster, as President of the ICC, said, “I would like to thank everyone who took the time to come to St Anne’s today to worship God together and share with us this significant milestone in inter–church relations on this island, especially Archbishop Eamon and Dr Good for their addresses. In eternity, 100 years is but a blink of an eye, not even that, but in the context of our human story a century is a significant moment.”

Bishop Leahy, the IICM’s Co–Chair, added, “I think those who attended each of these historic events 50 and 100 years ago would want us today to be grateful that after all that has happened on this Ireland over the past century we were able to join together to worship God, thanking Him as we continue to pray for the unity that is Christ’s gift to the Church, and for a servant heart. In humility, may we serve and love one another in and across communities and in doing so work for the common good.”

A full recording of the service can be viewed on Belfast Cathedral’s Facebook page

With thanks to Frank Dillon Photography.

Prayers answered in Inver

A new Rector has been appointed to the Inver Group of Parishes in south west Donegal. She is Rev Susan Elliott, a South African national, who lives with her husband, Don – a lay preacher – in Haenertsburg, in South Africa’s northernmost province, Limpopo.

Rev Elliott was born in Durban and trained as a teacher, before taking up employment first in the fashion industry as a buyer, then as an interior designer. She ran a retail and design business for 26 years. Her career took her to Johannesburg where she met Don, and the couple married in 1998.

While attending her local Anglican Church, Susan was asked by its Rector to take communion to the sick and the elderly. “This was the start of the journey to ordination and full-time ministry,” she says, “although I didn’t realise that at the time.”

Susan underwent a “gruelling” vocational training programme, before being accepted for ordination training. She was ordained in 2018 and is currently serving at St. David’s Church, in the small village of Modjadjiskloof. “The church numbers had dropped to four, as people left the area or became disillusioned with the lack of regular ministry. Don and I were both lay ministers before I was ordained and, as a team, we began to work to bring everyone back. God heard our prayers and slowly the Church came to life again.

“COVID worked in our favour,” Susan says, “as we were able to reach out personally to everyone through daily WhatsApps. We also were able to bring music back into the church through an overhead projector and YouTube. The beautiful graphics and modern songs appealed to both the youth and young at heart (all of the congregation!). This sparked a Youth Alpha, where we joined with the local Methodist church and a nearby rural church, and we had a vibrant group of 26 young people and eight confirmations.

“God blessed this little congregation – which has now grown to 50 – with an average attendance of 27 and up to 68 on special days. These numbers may be small by Irish standards, but the love and fellowship and sense of belonging is without measure. I am sad to say goodbye to beloved family members of St David’s, but am looking forward to new Irish family members as we grow together in love and fellowship.”

Susan said it was difficult to comment on the differences and similarities between Limpopo and Ireland, since she had only been to Ireland briefly – on the last occasion for just 10 days. “What I can say is that I have felt the warmth, friendliness and hospitality of all the Irish people I have met. There is a similar warmth and goodness in the rural people of Limpopo. Living away from large cities, we know and have friendships with neighbours, and greet people on the roads and at the shops. The village of Haenertsburg is so small that people can literally stop in the main street for a chat – and a passing motorist may stop and join in.

“One of the spiritualities that I briefly studied during my degree was Celtic Spirituality, and I was immediately drawn to the similarities in African spirituality, with the real presence of God interwoven in all of life: God is the great creator of the wild, untamed, beautiful countryside, and is present, interwoven in our daily lives. The rural situation of African spirituality which includes ‘ubuntu’ resonates with the inclusivity of rural Ireland, and the warmth and welcome we have encountered.”

A date has still to be set for the new rector’s Service of Institution, but she says she and her husband can’t wait to be living and settled in Ireland. Rev Elliott describes the impending move to Inver as an answer to prayer. “It is a dream come true,” she says, “as we have wanted to move to Ireland or the UK for many years. I believe that God knows our hearts, our deepest desires and dreams – sometimes before they are even in our conscious thoughts. I also believe and often refer to a few words of scripture –  ‘At just the right time’ [God acts] – that have sustained me. God’s timing is always perfect and, when we look back, we can see His hand and blessings on our life-path.”

“We currently live in a rural part of Limpopo, in a mountain and forest area, which is the coldest part of the province. It has a high rainfall – over 2 meters in December – but it never snows. I was sent pictures of snow in Donegal and Letterkenny yesterday, and can’t wait to experience snow again. Ireland is colder and wetter, but in the current January heat [here in Limpopo], Don has confessed he prefers to be colder than too hot!” That is one prayer that looks certain to be answered in Inver.

Warm welcome for Peruvian visitors

Diocese of Derry and Raphoe


The parishioners of Camus-Juxta-Mourne (Strabane) have been rolling out a sometimes snow-dusted red carpet for a special group of visitors this past week. They have been renewing acquaintance with Pastor Anderson Sanchez, his wife Isabel, and their children Jacob and Ivana, whom some of the Tyrone parishioners first befriended when they visited the Peruvian capital, Lima, eight years ago.

Pastor Anderson ministers to a community in Lima which members of Christ Church Strabane visited on two separate parish trips in 2015 and 2017. There was a temperature difference of around 20 degrees between sunny Lima and wintry Strabane for the duration of the Sanchez family’s return visit.

Their hosts organised a welcoming supper at Christ Church, last Friday evening, to greet the South Americans formally. At Sunday morning’s service, which was was led by the Rector, Rev John White, a collection raised £700 for Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) Church in Lima. The Rector and Pastor Anderson were joined, at the service, by Rev Stephen McElhinney, the Director of SAMS Ireland – the South American Mission Society – who shared with the congregation about the organisation’s work.

Bishop Andrew Forster joined Anderson at an informal Café Church event, on Sunday evening, which afforded an opportunity for fellowship and a chance to find out more about life in Peru. Ivana performed at the event as a guest of the Christ Church Strabane praise band.

While they were here, Pastor Anderson and his family got to see part of the North West, with Strabane parishioners accompanying them on trips to the Ulster American Folk Park near Omagh and to Derry-Londonderry. The family left on Tuesday morning – to visit relatives in Italy – before returning home.

Rev White said: “I am delighted to have finally welcomed Pastor Anderson and his family to Christ Church Strabane. We had intended to host them earlier, but those plans were thwarted by the Covid pandemic. Snow and ice made their visit here more challenging than it might normally have been – we had to abandon plans to visit the Giant’s Causeway, for example – but Anderson and his family had a really great time here.

“Our parishioners were made to feel incredibly welcome when they were in Lima in 2015 and 2017, and we were blessed to have an opportunity, at last, to repay that wonderful hospitality. I can finally put faces to some of the names I’ve heard so much about, and I hope it won’t be too long before we all meet again.”

Pastor Anderson presented both Bishop Andrew and Rev White with a penant and a stole bearing the name of his church in Lima.

King honours stalwarts

The Diocese of Derry and Raphoe offers warmest congratulations to four of its finest parish stalwarts who have been awarded MBEs by His Majesty the King in the 2023 New Year Honours list. 

Mr William Oliver – one of the Diocese’s five Honorary Secretaries and an active member of the Castlerock and Dunboe church family – was recognised for “services to education, to business and to charities in County Londonderry”. William’s service to his local churches on the north coast, and to the wider diocese, and indeed to the Church of Ireland centrally, is appreciated greatly. He is a Deputy Lieutenant for County Londonderry.

Mrs Heather Pratt, who is a Parochial Nominator in the Parish of Tamlaghtfinlagan (Ballykelly), was honoured for her “services to education”. Mrs Pratt is chair of the board of governors of Rossmar Special School, in Limavady. The Rector of Tamlaghtfinlagan, Rev Canon Harold Given, was among the many people in the parish to extend congratulations to Heather in person and online.

Distinguished academic, Professor Anne Heaslett – lately Principal, Stranmillis University College, Queen’s University Belfast – also received an M.B.E. for “services to education”. Dr Heaslett – is a parish reader in St. Canice’s Church, Balteagh. In 2017 she had a history of the parish published, The Spirit of Balteagh.

Mr Samuel Godfrey Young, who serves on both the Select Vestry and in the choir of St Columba’s Church in Omagh, was awarded an M.B.E. for “services to social work and to education”. Godfrey has worked in many voluntary capacities, to improve services and outcomes for young people across the west and further afield. He has made a significant contribution to Safeguarding at parish and diocesan level.

Bishop Andrew’s Christmas message 2022

Christmas is a magical time of year for children – and even for many ‘older children’ among us – as they look forward to Christmas morning and discovering what presents they’ve got this year.

Our tradition of giving gifts owes its origin to the account of the nativity in Matthew’s gospel. There we read how the Magi travelled from the east, searching for “the one who had been born king of the Jews”. They followed a star which led them to a house in Bethlehem. “They saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh”.

Magical though the festive season is, it can be bitter-sweet, too. It’s a time for reflection. Since last Christmas, we’ve seen war return to Europe, with thousands of people killed in Ukraine and millions displaced. Here at home, many people have been struggling with the cost-of-living crisis and that terrible dilemma: whether to heat or eat. I think of those battling against illness, or wrestling with addiction, or consumed by grief for a lost loved one. I think back to the twin tragedies at Enagh Lough, in August, and Creeslough, last October. The pain of loss can be felt most acutely at this time of year.

Last September, too, of course, we lost our beloved sovereign, Queen Elizabeth II. The late Queen drew strength, she said, from the message of hope in the Christian Gospel. In one of her many Christmas messages, she told us how much she relied on her faith to guide her through the good times and the bad. The only way to live her life, she said, was to try to do what was right, to take the long view, to give her best in all that the day brought, and to put her trust in God.

King Charles III faces an almost insurmountable task in seeking to emulate his late mother; but I am certain he will rise to the challenge, beginning at 3pm on Christmas Day when he delivers his first Christmas message. He will certainly be in my thoughts and prayers. So, too, will you.

I pray that you will discover what the Magi knew – and what our late Queen found out – that the greatest gift any of us can ever receive is Jesus Christ. His message of hope is fortifying and transformational for those who receive it and those who witness it.

Remarkably, that gift is there for all of us, if we want it. His is ‘the King’s message’ that I want you to hear this Christmas.

I wish you and your loved ones the peace of Christ.

+Andrew Derry & Raphoe

Derry and Raphoe MU “leading the way” in churches’ response to domestic violence

Members of Mothers’ Union groups from throughout the Diocese of Derry and Raphoe gathered in St Columb’s Cathedral, on Saturday 26th November, for a service to mark the organisation’s ‘16 Days’ Global Day of Action – which is the highpoint of MU’s campaign against gender-based violence.

Over the sixteen day period from Friday the 25th of November until Saturday the 10th of December, Mothers’ Union globally is raising awareness of, and calling for an end to, gender-based violence in all forms and in all societies.

The service was led by the Dean of Derry, Very Rev Raymond Stewart, who was assisted by the Diocesan Chaplain of MU, Rev Liz Fitzgerald and Rev Andrea Cotter. Among those in the congregation were the Deputy Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District, Cllr Angela Dobbins, and the Deputy Lieutenant for County Londonderry, Lady Girvan, who is a strong supporter of Mothers’ Union.

It’s estimated that a third of women worldwide suffer domestic or sexual abuse, prompting MU’s call for ‘#No more1in3’. While men and women can both be victims of gender-based violence, statistics show that women and girls are particularly at risk.

The congregation, which was comprised largely of women, was told that domestic violence was a crime and that tackling cultural attitudes was the responsibility of men and boys, as well as women and girls.

The guest speak was the author and editor of Vox Magazine, Ruth Garvey-Williams, who has investigated experiences, perceptions and attitudes surrounding domestic abuse across churches in Ireland. Ms Garvey-Williams thanked Derry and Raphoe Mothers’ Union for “leading the way in the church on this island” in responding to domestic violence.

The Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev Andrew Forster, described Mothers’ Union as “a stone in the shoe” that was helping the church to look out and support and advocate for victims of domestic violence. Bishop Andrew said the Diocesan President, Jacqui Armstrong, had been at the forefront of that work and thanked her for being “a voice for the voiceless”.

During the service, the congregation stood in silence for a period of three minutes, during which they prayed and reflected. Roberta Merrick lit a candle at the front of the Cathedral as a symbol of the light of Christ shining through the darkness of abuse. Rev Andrea Cotter shared with the congregation about a new course which Mothers’ Union has developed, in conjunction with Bishops’ Appeal and Tearfund, to counteract domestic abuse and gender-based violence. Readings at the service were delivered by Rev Fitzgerald, Dean Stewart, Jean Thompson, Eva Wright, Irene Hewitt, Ger West, Kay Clarke (Diocesan Vice-President) and Janice Quigley.

Special guest graces launch of St Canice’s Nativity Festival

The Rector of St Canice’s Church in Eglinton got robed for a special service, on Friday morning (December 2, 2022), but not in his usual garb. Rev Canon Paul Hoey, and Rector’s Churchwarden Elaine Way, dressed as Mary and Joseph for the launch of the parish’s three-day Nativity Festival. And they were joined by a special guest, Penelope the donkey, who was brought to St Canice’s by local parishioner Alison Leighton.

Parishioners and the wider community can call into the church over the three days of the event to see dozens of nativity scenes which have been created by local people. Visitors will have an opportunity to vote for their favourite depiction of the nativity.

The Festival began with an opening service at 10am on Friday morning, during which the choir of Eglinton Primary School performed a number of Christmas favourites. The Rector wore a Christmas jumper for the occasion.

Donations from the festival will be shared with two charities, ‘Jennifer’s Journey’ and the Simon Community, and some will also go towards the proposed new parish centre. St Canice’s has a number of other activities planned for the Advent season, as well, including the Altnagelvin Hospital Choir Carol Service, which will take place in the church on Tuesday 6th December at 7pm.

Church leaders meet President Higgins

The Leaders the of the Church of Ireland, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Methodist and Presbyterian Churches in Ireland met the President of Ireland, Michael D Higgins, today at Áras an Uachtaráin in Dublin.

Afterwards, the Church Leaders issued the following statement:

“We were delighted to accept the President’s invitation and very much welcomed the opportunity to spend time with him in what has been a focussed, but relaxed and informal conversation across a wide range of issues. The context for today’s meeting was our shared commitment to reconciliation and peacebuilding on the island of Ireland. While recognising the obvious challenges, we acknowledged that the important and vital work of peace is still an unfinished work, but one we are all committed to actively pursuing for the common good of all the people of Ireland.

“We were also keen to discuss together the difficult economic situation and its impact across the island. At the same time we spoke of its wider international implications, especially for the Global South, when coupled with the devastating effects of climate change and famine, including in the Horn of Africa, which is particularly close to the President’s heart.

“At the start of this Advent Season, when as disciples of Jesus Christ we look forward to celebrating the arrival of the Prince of Peace, it was positive and worthwhile to meet with the President and his wife Sabina today.”

Attending today’s meeting were the Rt Rev Andrew Forster, President of the Irish Council of Churches (and Church of Ireland Bishop of Derry and Raphoe); the Rt Rev Dr John Kirkpatrick, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland; the Most Rev John McDowell, Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of all Ireland; the Most Rev Eamon Martin, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of all Ireland; and the Rev David Nixon, President of the Methodist Church in Ireland.

Also in attendance were the Co–Secretaries of the Church Leaders’ Group (Ireland) – the Rev Trevor Gribben, Clerk of the General Assembly and General Secretary of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland; and the Rev Dr Heather Morris, General Secretary of the Methodist Church in Ireland.

The Church Leaders Group comprises the Church of Ireland and Roman Catholic Primates of All Ireland, the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, the President of the Methodist Church in Ireland and the President of the Irish Council of Churches.

MU’s vocal opposition to domestic violence recognised

The impact of Mothers’ Union’s ’16 Days’ campaign in Ireland was acknowledged, recently, when MU’s Worldwide President, Sheran Harper, made a presentation to the President of Derry and Raphoe Mothers’ Union, Jacqui Armstrong, in recognition of her work – and MU’s – to counter domestic and gender-based violence. The presentation took place in St Macartin’s Cathedral, in Enniskillen during Ms Harper’s visit to Ireland.

The citation on the award reads: ‘Presented to Mothers’ Union in the Province of Ireland, in appreciation of your exceptional work in combatting gender-based violence through advocacy, prayer and practical matters. Mothers’ Union #nomore1in3. Presented by Sheran Harper, Worldwide President.’

Following the Service, Jacqui said: “I am delighted to accept it [the award] on behalf of the various teams that have worked so hard and so consistently to bring the scourge of domestic abuse and gender-based violence to the fore in our dioceses across Ireland.”

This year, the ‘16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence’ campaign begins on Friday the 25th of November and continues until Saturday the 10th of December. Throughout the 16-day period, Mothers’ Union members locally will be joining with fellow members and supporters, globally, to raise awareness of, and call for an end to, gender-based violence in all forms and in all societies.

Saturday 26th November, has been designated ’16 Days Global Day of Action’ – the highlight of MU’s annual campaign. The occasion will be marked with a short Service of Prayer and Reflection in St Columb’s Cathedral, Londonderry beginning at 12.45pm. The speaker will be Ruth Garvey-Williams who has undertaken a study across churches in Ireland in relation to experiences, perceptions and attitudes surrounding domestic abuse. All are welcome to attend.

Remembrance Sunday “most solemn day of our annual calendar” says Bishop Andrew

The words ‘God save our gracious King!’ rang out around the war memorial in the centre of Londonderry, this morning, for the first time in over 70 years, as local people gathered to remember servicemen and women who had died in past conflicts. The Rev Canon John Merrick, from St Columb’s Cathedral, led the Service of Remembrance in the Diamond, where he was joined by leaders of the four main Churches locally: the General Secretary of the Methodist Church, Rev Canon Dr Heather Morris; the Moderator of the Derry and Donegal Presbytery, Rev Graeme Orr; the Bishop of Derry, Most Rev Dr Donal McKeown; and the Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev Andrew Forster.

Among those who laid wreaths at the cenotaph were the King’s Vice Lord -Lieutenant for the County Borough of Londonderry, Ian Crowe; the High Sheriff for the County Borough of Londonderry, Paul Howie; East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell; Foyle MLA Gary Middleton; and members of Derry City and Strabane District Council.

After the ceremony, the Dean of Derry, Very Rev Raymond Stewart, led a Service of Remembrance and Thanksgiving at St Columb’s Cathedral, which was attended by the Vice Lord -Lieutenant; the Deputy Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District, Cllr Angela Dobbins; and the High Sheriff for the Borough.

During the Service, wreaths were laid at the Cathedral’s war memorial, followed by the playing of The Last Post.

The sermon was delivered by the Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev Andrew Forster, who described Remembrance Sunday as the “most solemn day of our annual calendar”. Bishop Andrew said he, personally, was remembering three people in particular: one grandfather, who served in. the First World War with the King’s Westminster Rifles; another grandfather, who served in the Home Guard during the Second World War; and a late uncle who served with distinction in the Royal Ulster Constabulaary.

The Bishop said the congregation’s remembrance was more than some annual, formal duty. “Rather,” he said, “it is a heartfelt obligation borne of admiration and borne of love, as in our remembrance – in some very small way – we pay the debt we owe to those who served us and those who paid the ultimate sacrifice that ensured that we can do what we do today, and live our everyday lives in peace and freedom.”

At the beginning of today’s Service, Dean Stewart informed the congregation that one of his predecessors as Dean of Derry and Rector of the Parish of Templemore, Very Rev Cecil Orr, had passed away on Friday evening and would be buried on Tuesday following a Funeral Service in Saint Columb’s Cathedral.