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Pioneer Ministry – a brief introduction

Pioneer Ministry is writing a new chapter in the Church of Ireland’s mission to reach people with little or no connection to church. With the endorsement of the House of Bishops and generous funding secured from the Representative Body, the initiative is being led by a National Director, the Revd Rob Jones, assisted by Archdeacon Barry Forde and Ingrid Brennan.

The initiative will encourage, support and release volunteer and paid pioneers and new ministries to share the good news of Jesus Christ in new places and in different ways.  

For further updates and all the information about Pioneer Ministry  please see their new website – – or email to sign up for their new monthly newsletter.

Incessant rain fails to dampen spirits on Letterkenny’s Christmas Carol Trail

Jesus tells us, in Matthew 5 v 45, that God – our Father in heaven – “sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous”. The first part of that observation was borne out in Letterkenny this evening as incessant rain fell on the couple of hundred people who took part in the town’s 10th Christmas Carol Trail.

This unique festive event is organised by Letterkenny Chamber of Commerce, Letterkenny Cathedral Quarter and Letterkenny Community Development Project and the Carol Service is facilitated by Trinity Presbyterian Church, St Eunan’s Cathedral and Conwal Parish Church.

The participants gathered first in Trinity Presbyterian Church on Main Street where they were welcomed by the minister, Rev Tommy Bruce. The congregation – including Bishop Alan McGuckian, Rev David Houlton and Rev Heather Houlton – listened to readings from the Bible and sang Christmas Carols together, before making their way in a candlelit procession along Main Street and up Church Lane for more hymns and readings outside the Gospel Hall.

Umbrellas were opened throughout the walk, and the rain seemed to fall almost horizontally, as the group wend their way to the former Methodist Church (Mount Southwell). From there it was on to St Eunan’s Cathedral, and the last stop – with Carols and readings at each destination – was Conwal Parish Church, where the event concluded with a special rendition of ‘O Holy Night’ by singer Jean Curran.

Afterwards, the bedraggled participants walked the few short steps to Conwal Church Hall for some welcome refreshments, including mince pies and hot drinks.

Bishop Andrew’s Christmas Message

Christmas Day is one of the great feast days in the Christian calendar, and probably the most eagerly anticipated. Children will be on tenterhooks, waiting to see whether they get the presents they’ve asked for. For most adults, it’ll be a chance to enjoy some time off work, visit family and friends, and share a fine meal together. Even non-Christians appreciate the opportunity – or the excuse – to have a celebration, and who would begrudge anyone a day of happiness and joy, especially in these troubled times?

Recently, our television screens have been filled with images and reports of carnage in Gaza, slaughter in Israel, bloodshed in Ukraine, the furore over migrant boats arriving on British and other countries’ shores and, of course, the cost-of-living and energy crises (which present very real challenges for many people in our parishes and communities). The world is a very dark place, at present, so one might reasonably ask, ‘What is there to celebrate?’ 

For Christians, the birth of Jesus – the arrival of God on earth – is undoubtedly something to be enormously thankful for. Matthew 1 v 23 tells us, “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). For me, the Incarnation is tremendously reassuring, as is Christ’s promise – in Matthew 28 v 20 – that he is with us always, “to the very end of the age”.  

Our Christmas Day liturgies are peppered with references to ‘light’. In our Morning Prayer on Christmas Day, we’ll be invited to “come to the light of Christ”. The liturgy for Evening Prayer will say, “To dispel the darkness of our night you sent forth your Son, the firstborn of all creation, to be the Christ, the light of the world.” One of my favourite prayers begins with the words, “Lighten our darkness”. And Jesus himself told us, in John 8 v 12, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Light is comforting and reassuring. It guides us along the right path. It enlightens us and helps us to see more clearly. Often, in the darkness, it’s difficult to see the good that’s being done around us. But it is happening – in our parishes, schools and hospitals; throughout our healthcare services; in workplaces, charities and the community and voluntary sector; and wherever our emergency services personnel are at work. We are truly blessed by this generosity of spirit. 

This Christmas, I give thanks for the Incarnation of God on earth. I pray that we will all come to Christ – the light of the world. I pray that his light will illuminate the road to a better future and enlighten people all around the globe. I pray that all of us – here in our homes and parishes; in war-torn places like Gaza, Israel and Ukraine; wherever there is pain and anguish and turmoil – will come to know the peace of Christ — the greatest gift that any of us could hope for this Christmas.

I wish you all a joyful, prayerful and peaceful Christmas and a happy New Year.+Andrew, Derry and Raphoe

St Canice’s presents gifts to local charities

The distribution of cheques from the proceeds of sales at the Parish of Faughanvale’s thrift shop, New Beginnings, has become part of the Christmas tradition at St Canice’s Church in Eglinton and this year has been no exception.

The shop, on the Benbow Industrial Estate, just outside the village, reinvests in the local community through the St Canice’s Hall Restoration Appeal – which aims to replace the parish hall destroyed in the devastating flood six years ago – and by supporting local charities.

The Rector, Rev Canon Paul Hoey, was joined at today’s cheque presentation by the coordinator of New Beginnings, Roberta Sinclair, and by its administrator, churchwarden Elaine Way. Roberta says the shop is supported by people from right across the local community and the chosen charities are likewise representative of the wider community.

This year’s beneficiaries were the Northwest Methodist Mission, Londonderry Orphan Society, Bishops’ Appeal, St Vincent de Paul and Foyle Search & Rescue. Representatives of the latter two organisations were there in person at New Beginnings’ premises, this lunchtime, to collect their donations.

Canon Hoey thanked all of the charities for the tremendous work they do. “It’s a drop in the ocean, I know,” he said, “but it’s something to encourage you. It’s so easy for churches to get caught up in thinking we’re only here for ourselves but we see it as important to be here to thank you and to support you in the really important work that you are doing.”

Choirs ‘steal the show’ from blue light heroes

There was rapturous applause for members of the PSNI, NI Fire and Rescue Service, the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service and other emergency services, in St Columb’s Cathedral in Londonderry, on Monday evening (11th December 2023), but the warmth of the ovation paled in comparison to that which followed the performances of Foyle Down Syndrome and Ebrington Primary School Choirs. Their joint rendition of ‘Jingle Bell Rock – featuring Conor Collins on saxophone – may not have brought the house down but it brought the huge congregation to their feet.

The cathedral was packed almost to overflowing for the annual ‘Joint Emergency Services North West Community Carol Service’. Indeed, so large was the attendance that the cathedral ran out of orders of service.

This year’s service was supported by the Royal Foundation of the Prince and Princess of Wales. Among those in attendance were the Lord-Lieutenant for the County of Londonderry, Ian Crowe MBE and his wife, Christine, and the Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District, Cllr Patricia Logue and her husband James.

The Lord-Lieutenant shared a message from Her Royal Highness, The Princess of Wales, with the congregation, in which she recognised those who had gone above and beyond to help others throughout the year – and especially to help children. The Princess says foundations we lay in early childhood shape the rest of our lives and the adults we become.

This evening’s service was one of 12 Community Carol Services taking place across the UK this year, hosted by Lord-Lieutenants and supported by The Royal Foundation.

The service was led by the Dean of Derry, Very Rev Raymond Stewart, who was assisted by the four local Church leaders: the Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev Andrew Forster; the Bishop of Derry, Most Rev Dr Donal McKeown; the chairperson of the North West Methodist Mission, Rev Dr Stephen Skuce; and the Moderator of the Derry and Donegal Presbytery, Rev Gordon McCracken. The congregation included senior officers of the three main ‘blue light’ services, among them the recently-appointed Chief Constable of the PSNI, Jon Boutcher.

Music was provided by the Cathedral Girls’ Choir, directed by Nicky Morton, and accompanied by Dr Derek Collins on the organ.

New Canon appointed for Raphoe Cathedral

Rev Mervyn Peoples has been appointed a Canon of St Eunan’s Cathedral in Raphoe. The appointment, which was announced publicly on Friday 8th December 2023, was made by Bishop Andrew and fills the vacancy in the Cathedral Chapter following the retirement of Rev Canon Judi McGaffin.

Canon Peoples, who has served in more than a dozen parishes in our dioceses, says he was taken by surprise by the news but regards it as a great honour. “It is a real surprise – and a real blessing – to have been appointed a Canon of St Eunan’s Cathedral,” he said. “Ironically, the news arrived during the first week of Advent but I can honestly say I didn’t see it coming. It is a role I have never sought but which I am delighted to fulfil, and I am enormously grateful to Bishop Andrew for bestowing this great honour upon me.

“I have tremendous affection for parishioners throughout the Diocese of Raphoe, many of whom I have had the privilege of serving during vacancies and at other times. I am mindful of the significance of St Eunan’s Cathedral in their lives and worship, and I pray I can be a blessing to them as much as they have blessed me.

“I am enormously grateful to my wife and family for their unstinting support throughout my ministry. And I pray, too, that God will guide me in this new, exciting and unexpected phase in my ministry.”

Canon Peoples – who has served God’s people in All Saints’ Clooney, Templemore (St Columb’s Cathedral), Conwal, Dunfanaghy, Moville, Inver and Stranorlar, to mention just a few of his parishes – reserves his final words of gratitude for the One who called him. “I just serve where there’s a need,” he said, “and wherever I’m asked to go. It would be impossible to do it without God’s support and guidance.”

Christmas Tree festival ‘transports’ visitors to Bethlehem

Scores of pupils from Tobermore Primary School were among the first visitors on the opening day of Kilcronaghan Parish Church’s ‘Unto Us a Child is Born’ Christmas Tree Festival, which aims to “capture the wonder of Christmas” in trees.

The Rector, Rev Rosie Diffin, and her husband, Ronnie, were on hand to greet the youngsters; their Principal, Mr Ian Cheevers; and the many other visitors who called to see the two dozen exhibits on display at the four-day festival.

Extending an open invitation to people in the south Derry area and further afield to come and visit the church, Rev Diffin said, “We hope that you will find this an exciting way to engage in the Good News of God’s rescue plan for this world.

“The Christmas Story, as recorded in the Gospels, speaks of a journey and the unfolding story of God’s love for each one of us. As you journey through the trees, it is my hope that you will be led in your hearts and minds unto Bethlehem — that place where the Christ Child was born.”

Throughout the four days of the festival, members of the parish team are serving scones, tray bakes, tea and coffee in the church hall, where some of the trees are on display, along with a number of quilts.

The Christmas Tree Festival is open from 11.00am-8.00pm Thursday to Saturday, and from 3.00-5.30pm on Sunday. There will be a Closing Service at half past six on Sunday evening.

Foyle U3A Choir strikes the right note

‘What the world needs now,’ the Foyle U3A Choir sang, ‘is love, sweet love,’ and the sentiment in Hal David’s lyrics were rarely more appropriate, given what’s happening in the world at present. The hit song, whose melody was composed by Burt Bacharach, was one of the highlights of the U3A Choir’s barnstorming performance at Christ Church, Derry’s ‘First Wednesday Recital’ on Wednesday 6th December 2023.

The monthly recital series is quickly establishing itself as a ‘must see’ fixture in the local cultural calendar. Today’s programme, during which the choir was directed by Jim Goodman and accompanied by Elizabeth Charlesson on the piano, thrilled its audience and was warmly applauded.

The concert-goers were addressed by Jim Kelley – one of the series’ organisers – who introduced the performers as “one of the best U3A choirs in the UK”. After that, it was ‘straight down to business’ with a programme that ranged from ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’, through the Phantom of the Opera, to ‘Da Doo Ron Ron’.

The recital featured solo performances by Donald Hill, Pearl Stewart, Elaine Way and Dympna McGuckian (who was making her debut as a soloist).

The next event in the recital series will feature the gifted organist, Dr Derek Collins, at 1.10 pm on Wednesday 3rd January 2023.

‘Darkness into Light’ procession

The Season of Advent was launched formally and dramatically in St Columb’s Cathedral in Londonderry on Sunday evening (3rd December 2023) with its now traditional Advent procession. This is a well-established and much loved service of readings, hymns and anthems on the theme ‘Darkness into Light’.

The temperature hovered around freezing as the congregation made their way into church, immediately appreciating the comforting warmth in a porch festooned with Christmas lighting.

The Service — which was based on the Great Advent Antiphons — began in darkness (representing the darkness before creation and the darkness of sin), with the choir gradually proceeding by candlelight from the west end of the church to the east, symbolising our journey of faith towards Christ.

This evening’s Service was led by the Dean of Derry, Very Rev Raymond Stewart, assisted by the Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev Andrew Forster and the Cathedral’s Pastoral Assistant, Rev Canon John Merrick. The service was sung by the Choristers and Gentlemen of the Cathedral Choir, directed by Dr Derek Collins and accompanied by Nicky Morton on the organ, and among those who delivered the lessons and readings were People’s Churchwarden, Miss Muriel Hamilton; Diocesan Reader Mr David Bell; and Parish Reader Ms Jacqui Armstrong.

New Rector appointed for Leckpatrick and Dunnalong

The Rev’d Andrea Cotter has been appointed Rector of the parishes of Leckpatrick and Dunnalong, succeeding Rev Canon Paul Whittaker, who retired last February. The announcement was made at services in both churches, this morning, and also in All Saints’, Clooney, where Rev’d Cotter has been serving as Curate-Assistant since her ordination as priest there two years ago.

The parishioners in her new parishes will have to wait until the springtime, though, to welcome the new incumbent and her husband, Richard. “It’ll be after Easter before we move to Leckpatrick,” she confirmed this morning. “I’m really looking forward to it. I know that ministry in rural Tyrone will be very different from an urban parish like Clooney, but the challenge excites me.

“The good news is we have an amazing story and message to proclaim,” Rev’d Cotter said, “and I can’t wait to share it with the congregations in St Patrick’s and St John’s — and in the wider communities in both parishes.

“Obviously, I’ll be sad to leave All Saints’. I’ve made many new friends there and I’ve been blessed to serve with Canon [David] McBeth. He has a great pastoral heart and I’ve learned so much from him. I look forward to putting all that teaching into practice as a Rector.”

Rev’d Cotter was born and baptised in Lisburn, and spent part of her childhood in Finaghy. A former Sunday School teacher, she attended St Patrick’s Church in Ballymena following her marriage to Richard.

Andrea hopes, through her ministry, to encourage people to use their gifts and build up the community of faith, and to reach out into the community to show Christ’s love and peace to all. She is “passionate”, she says, about encouraging young people to come and get involved in church life, and also feels strongly about hospitality and welcome in churches.