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History made as Raphoe Cathedral’s First Lady Dean is installed

The Very Rev Liz Fitzgerald has been installed as the first ever Lady Dean in the long and distinguished history of St Eunan’s Cathedral. The historic Service of Installation took place on Saturday evening, 23rd September 2023 – the Feast Day of St Eunan, after whom the cathedral church is named.

The Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev Andrew Forster, told a gathering after the service that the new Rector had been appointed Dean not because she was a woman but because she was the best candidate for the position.

The incumbent-elect was presented for institution as Rector of Raphoe, Raymochy and Clonleigh by the Archdeacon of Raphoe, Ven David Huss, who also preached the sermon.

The Archdeacon began by commiserating with the new Rector because he said it was the third occasion on which she had had to listen to him (he had been the preacher when she was made deacon in St Columba’s Church, Omagh in 2015 and again, six years ago, when she was introduced as Bishop’s Curate in the parishes of Gweedore, Carrickfinn and Templecrone.

Archdeacon Huss chose an extract from Matthew’s Gospel, Chapter 28 v 19 – the Great Commission – as the theme of his sermon. In it, Jesus urges his disciples to go and make disciples of all nations.

“It is here,” the preacher said, “that our Lord Jesus Christ gives the church his parting words and our standing orders. He gives here a Great Project, ‘Make disciples’, and a Great Promise, ‘I am with you always.’

“If ever we are wondering ‘what are we supposed to be doing?’, the answer is here: make disciples. That is our task as the church.

“Not to maintain a building, or preserve an institution. Not to nurture an identity or to make waves politically. Not even to fill pews or balance books, to gain column inches in the paper or likes and shares online.

“All those things are good,” Archdeacon Huss said, “they have their place, but they are secondary to the great project – make disciples. That’s the imperative.”

Rev Fitzgerald’s husband, Sean, their son, John, and his partner, Eirinn Canning, were in the front pew listening to the sermon along with the new Rector.

“Perhaps some of you have a poor sense of direction (like me),” Archdeacon Huss suggested, “and when you’re driving to a new place you need to follow someone. Many’s the time I’ve been led to an unfamiliar house by someone who has said: ‘Look, I’ll meet you at such-and-such a place and then you can follow me.’

“And that works well unless you find like I have that going through busy traffic or after a junction you’re not quite sure if you’re still following the right car or someone else’s. It is worthwhile for each of us to pause and ask: who am I really following in my life?

“Am I trying to live up to the expectations of others: parents, neighbours, friends? Am I trying to chase success or popularity, pleasure or freedom? Or am I following Jesus Christ?

“That’s his call to all of us: ‘Follow me.’”

Archdeacon Huss said the first pillar of disciple-making was to administer the sacraments and the second was to teach the word of God.

“St Eunan, or Adomnán, whose feast is today, was among many other things a great teacher. He was Abbot of Iona and biographer of Columba, his relative and fellow-native of what we now call Donegal. The Annals of the Four Masters says this about him: ‘Adomnán, son of Ronan, Abbot of Iona, died on 23rd September, after having been 26 years in the abbacy, and after the 77th year of his age. Adomnán was a good man, according to the testimony of St Bede, for he was tearful, penitent, given to prayer, diligent, ascetic, and temperate… and moreover, he was wise and learned in the clear understanding of the holy scriptures of God.’

“Well, our learning may not reach the heights of Eunan, who has been called a great ‘sage of the western world’ and even ‘the founder of Scottish literature’. But surely he reminds us to place a high value on teaching and learning as foundational to our Christian task.

“We don’t make disciples by engineering or cunning or force,” the preacher said. “We use the methods God has given us: the celebration of the sacraments and the teaching of the word of God.

“That’s the great project for all of us: make disciples. Let that be the focus of this next period in the life of this cathedral and these parishes.

“But we finish with the great promise: ‘I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’

“What a promise. It’s the same thought as in Psalm 121 – we don’t go it alone: ‘The Lord is your keeper / the Lord is your shade at your right hand / my help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.’

“It’s why our whole ministry should be bathed in prayer, as Romans 12 reminds us: ‘Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.’ Because our ministry as Christians will be effective only by the power and presence of the Lord.

“Pray earnestly for the work of the Holy Spirit. Pray that his presence will go with us.”

Drawing his address to a close, Archdeacon Huss said: “What an exciting time in the kingdom of God and in the life of these parishes – which are not ours, but his. The Church for which he came and shed his precious blood to win for himself a people for all eternity.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Saturday’s Service of Installation was led by the Rural Dean and Diocesan Registrar, Rev Canon David Crooks. The Bishop’s Curate for the occasion was Rev Johnny Lowden, Curate in Glendermott and Newbuildings.

During the service, gratitude was expressed to Rev Canon John Deane and Diocesan Reader Peter Clampett who had led services during the vacancy which followed the departure of the previous Rector, Rev Arthur Barrett, to Glendalough.

A choir comprising members of different local churches led the hymn-singing, accompanied by Cathedral organist Renee Goudie.

After the service, the congregation made their way the short distance to the Cathedral Hall for refreshments and speeches.

Canon Crooks was applauded for preparing the liturgy for Saturday’s service (the new Dean thanked him for collecting her robes in England). Canon Crooks pointed out that the Bunbeg Group of Parishes – which Very Rev Fitzgerald had left after six years – had now produced its fourth Dean of Raphoe. Bishop Andrew told the gathering that the guest of honour was now the only female Dean in the Church of Ireland Province of Armagh.

Rev Andrew Neill ordained in Limavady

A late summer deluge – with rolling thunder – failed to dampen the mood in Christ Church, Limavady on the evening of Sunday 10th September, 2023 where Rev Andrew Neill was ordained to the priesthood by the Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev Andrew Forster.

Rev Neill will serve his curacy in the Parish of Drumachose under the guidance of its Rector, Rev Canon Aonghus Mayes. The new curate’s wife, Claire, and their two children were in church for the service, along with his parents and siblings, members of his extended family, parishioners from Agherton (Portstewart) where he had served his Deacon Internship, and churchgoers from Christ Church.

Clergy, readers and choir members made their way into church against a dramatic soundscape, with heavy rain spattering onto the path, the church bell tolling in the tower looming over them and thunder rumbling from the low grey sky.

Bishop Andrew suggested that this evening’s offering – which was being taken up for the Diocesan Ministry Fund – should perhaps be diverted instead to the RNLI, given the difficulties the congregation had overcome to actually reach the service.

The Bishop thanked the Rector and the parish for organising the Service of Ordination. “Any ordination is special,” Bishop Andrew said, “and why is it special? Because it’s another step in the life of ministry for an individual – Andrew; it’s another step in the life of the parish that he will serve, here, in Drumachose, in Christ Church; and it’s another step in the life of the diocese and in the Church of God itself, as we ordain together. So, what we do tonight, it actually is an historic moment, and we worship and praise and give thanks to God that we can do this.

“And I know that for you, Andrew, this is a step in a long journey that has brought you here, and we’re delighted to welcome you back into the Derry and Raphoe family, as well, and also to acknowledge the amazing ministry that Claire [the new Curate’s wife who is the Diocesan Youth Officer] has in the Diocese of Derry and Raphoe, as well. I’m completely biased, of course, but it’s great to welcome you back to the best diocese in the Church of Ireland.”

This evening’s sermon was preached by the Rev Malcolm Ferry, the Rector of the Parish of Agherton and a former Canon of St Columb’s Cathedral. Rev Ferry joked that in Agherton, that morning, they had built a small ark so that they could get to the Ordination Service.

Rev Ferry said the central act of ordination was the belief that the Holy Spirit empowered – gave to Andrew – those necessary gifts and talents, so that he might fulfil his ministry as priest. So, the Preacher said, by the Holy Spirit, Andrew would be enabled to preach, teach, counsel, administer sacraments in ways that benefitted the spiritual growth and wellbeing of the Drumachose congregation and the congregations where he would serve in future.

“Andrew will now be seen as participating in the ministry of Christ in a very unique way,” Rev Ferry said. “To represent Christ here on earth, called to imitate Christ’s compassion, his humility, his self-sacrifice. Andrew’s called to care for the spiritual needs of his people – the people here in this parish – and along with this, Andrew is tasked to intercede on behalf of the congregation when he leads prayer. He is the bridge between the parish and God as he serves as priest.”

There was no doubt, the Preacher said, that ordination carried with it a deep sense of calling. There was an expectation that Rev Neill would live out a dedicated service to God.

“Having, if you like, laid out the formal definitions about ordination to the priesthood, I want to offer you now some personal thoughts – personal thoughts as you, my good friend, will soon become my priestly colleague.

“I offer you these words: firstly, ‘personal’; secondly, ‘insightful’; and lastly ‘expectation’. There’s an expectation tonight of everyone present and, indeed, of Andrew himself, so, let’s look just for a moment at the personal nature of ordination. It’s a privilege and it’s a challenge. It’s a joy, it’s a sorrow. It’s very public and yet very private. It’s professional and yet informal. It’s pastoral – it will take over your whole life – and yet you remain the ordinary person you are.

“Ordination will be, for Andrew, a very powerful gear change in his life. Andrew, I know, has worried about it, prayed about it, wondered about it, deliberated about it, but one thing Andrew didn’t do was say “Och, sure, I’ll give it a go and sure if it doesn’t work out there’s a plan B.’ 

“That’s where ordination to the priesthood is different from any other job opportunity – it has the longest interview process known to Man! – it’s different. It’s not, from tonight on, life/work balance; it’s life/priest balance.

“I did suggest to you the word ‘insightful’, defined as ‘having or showing a very accurate and deep understanding’ of something. To go forward with your ordination, Andrew, without you being insightful, would be madness.

“Andrew you will have worked hard to learn as much as you can about what it means to be a priest, serving the people of God. You’ve had placements; you’ve seen from them and gleaned as much as you could from the role of priest. 

“But there’s little point in going ahead if, Andrew, you didn’t sit down and count the cost. The job is unique. It’s like none other. I’m still learning and I’m sure all the priests that are with us this evening would say that they’re still learning, too, because we have to keep learning because we’ll get swallowed up in the changing world where, it seems, rejection of Christ is getting stronger and stronger. 

“The job is fixed in some ways – we proclaim the truth of Christ crucified – but we proclaim it in a world that’s very different year on year, and the difference is happening at a break-neck speed.

“Finally, Andrew, there is that word ‘expectation’. Now, that word cuts both ways for the people here and for you. You will have an expectation of how the people here should see you and respect you as the priest, just as the people of this parish and indeed the people for the rest of your ministry [will] have an expectation of you.

“Now, I want to describe expectation in this way: the mould is already cast. The mould is cast long before this evening, long before my or any other ordination. The mould – whether we like it, whether we think it’s correct or not – the mould is cast. The mould is cast here in Limavady. The good people here will expect, as will the Rector, certain things of you. But you already know. You’ve been insightful. You’ve sat down to count the cost.

“The mould that is set is the mould of the priest. Not the leader. Not the preacher. Not the strategist. Not the popular entertainer, but the mould that is set is that of Priest.”

Rev Ferry said the ordained ministry was a blessing and a huge responsibility. “Through the laying-on of hands by the bishop and your fellow priests, we will enable you to fulfil your calling. We, your fellow priests, your bishop, we are here to help and assist you as we proclaim Christ risen, encouraging Christians to live more Christian lives, encouraging those who have fallen away to join the journey again, walking and sharing in people’s joys and in their sorrows. It’s private for you, Andrew, just as it was for those first disciples on that first day of the week when the disciples were together with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders and Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be to you.’

“The doors aren’t exactly locked here, this evening, but I do hope they’re open. They’re not locked here, nor are we afraid in this town to proclaim Christ crucified. But this service is more than just the welcoming of a new curate. We want Jesus to be here with us and stand among us and say, ‘Peace be with you.’ [That’s] the very thing – that’s what we want to happen this evening – that as you enter this new role of priest, you’ll find peace.”

Rev Ferry, who guided Rev Neill through his Deacon Internship, told the Rector that his new curate would become his trusted and supportive friend.

“Andrew, as you begin this new ministry, with Claire and the girls by your side, we all wish to encourage you and hold you in prayer. Those who know you well know that you want to seek God’s guidance and his help. We know, too, that your heart has a passion for the work of a priest, and a personal commitment this evening.” 

This Service of Ordination was led by Bishop Andrew Forster, who was assisted by the Archdeacon of Derry, Ven Robert Miller, the Archdeacon of Raphoe, Ven David Huss, and Canon Mayes. Music was provided by the Choir of Christ Church Limavady, accompanied by organist Louis Fields.

After the service, the congregation hurried across the churchyard to the parish hall where they enjoyed refreshments. Bishop Andrew thanked the parish team for their hospitality, and the Rector for organising the Service of Ordination. The Bishop told the gathering that the relationship between a new curate and their rector was a special bond. “I was a curate in the early 90s and I still look back to what I learned as a curate. Do you remember a number of years ago a lot of young Christians used to wear a little bracelet and it said ‘WWJD’ – ‘What would Jesus do?’ Well, as a rector, I used to think not ‘WWJD’ but ‘What would Norman do?’ He was my rector.” 

Bishop Andrew told Rev Neill that he had come to Drumachose with much to offer the parish, but with a spirit to learn, also.

The Bishop also thanked the preacher, Rev Ferry, for a sermon which had great meaning not only for the newly-ordained curate but for every member of the clergy present.

History in Rossnakill as new Priest-in-charge is introduced for new parish grouping

A slice of diocesan history was created in north Donegal on the evening of Friday 8th September when a new parish grouping was inaugurated at a Service of Introduction for the new Priest-in-charge of the Grouped Parishes of Clondevaddock and Mevagh, Rev Chris Matchett.

The service took place in the Church of Christ the Redeemer on a balmy evening in Rossnakill. Serving and retired clergy from all corners of the diocese joined parishioners from the three other churches now under Rev Matchett’s leadership – Holy Trinity Carrigart, All Saints’ Portsalon and Leatbeg Chapel of Ease.

The service was led by the Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev Andrew Forster, assisted by the Archdeacon of Raphoe, Ven David Huss, the Archdeacon of Derry, Ven Robert Miller, and the Bishop’s Curate for the occasion, Rev Sean McClafferty. The sermon was preached by the rector of the Monaghan Group of Parishes, Revd Chancellor Ian Berry, who is a long-standing friend of Rev Matchett’s.

Among those in the congregation on this historic evening were Rev Matchett’s wife, Ali, and Bishop Andrew’s predecessor, Rt Rev Ken Good.

Bishop Andrew said he was delighted to be in Rossnakill to give thanks to God for Rev Matchett’s leadership and ministry. “It’s a red letter day because it is, in many ways, the inauguration of a new parish group, made possible by a miracle of engineering – the new bridge which brings Carrigart and the Fanad Group together. So, it’s a very special evening for the parishes, for Chris and Ali, for the diocese and for each one of us.

“My hope and prayer, this evening, is that we will have a deep sense of celebration, but also a deep sense of the ‘Yes’ of almighty God, the ‘ Yes’ that’s in God’s plan for this new group of parishes to be together, the ‘Yes’ that’s in God’s plan for Chris and Ali to come and serve among you, and the ‘ Yes’ that’s in God’s plan that we are here as the people of God to serve Him and to worship Him and to know his love and to make His love known in this beautiful part of His creation.”

The preacher, Rev Ian Berry, has known the new Priest-in-charge since their days in theological college almost 30 years ago. Rev Berry focused on the New Testament reading from Acts 20, 28-35, in which St Paul addresses the elders of the Church in Ephesus, having followed God’s call in the 20 years since Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus.

“When he tells them, ‘Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God which he bought with his own blood’, this is what he [Paul] has done and it’s what he is doing. And it’s what clergy ought to do as well.”

The preacher said events such as Friday evening’s Service of Introduction, ordinations, institutions, all such occasions were “a reminder of what we [clergy] are called to, and how we are following God’s call in our lives.” He said that all members of the church had to trust and rely and depend on Jesus each day. “Just as Chris is following God’s call on and in his life, just as it’s brought him to this night and to this place, it is what every parishioner needs to do.”

Rev Berry addressed the parishioners of Clondevaddock and Mevagh directly. “You may need to stay faithful to God’s call in your lives, to be a good flock, to be happy and to be watched over and to be led; to be here at Sunday worship, in private prayer, in Bible-reading and in study. You are to build each other up, encouraging others to be faithful to God’s call, confident in God’s word.”

The preacher said Rev Matchett’s new parishioners would “get to know Chris as he leads, as he cares, as he ministers and lives here in this gloriously beautifully part of the Church of Ireland. You’ll get to know him as a colleague in the diocese. Here you’ll get to know him as he preaches, and reads, and prays and leads worship, baptises, celebrates Holy Communion, welcomes people through that door at the back, and pastors in this area and in this group. You see, that’s how the elders in Ephesus got to know Paul.”

Drawing his sermon to a close, Rev Berry observed that this was “a new era for this group, for Chris, for Ali and the diocese.” He finished with words of reassurance for Rev Matchett: “Chris, we are furnished for God’s call by the continual presence and provision and grace of God that gives us what is needed to seek and serve and follow Him.”

The evening ended with a splendid supper in Tamney Hall, laid on by the parishioners in honour of their new minister. There were speeches of welcome from lay representatives of the parishes, from local parish priest, Fr Charles Byrne, and Bishop Andrew, and there was a response from the new Priest-in-charge which began with a few words in Irish.

Rev David Griscome – who was prominent among those ministering to the parishes during the recent vacancy – was singled out for acknowledgement and applause.

Incidentally, there was an amusing moment in church just before the service began, as people were being ushered into their seats. Two ladies were asked by a member of the parish team, “Are you dignitaries?”

“No,” one of the women replied, “we’re normal. We’re clergy wives.”

For the Rev Chris, this new ministry is a homecoming of sorts. He is a son of the diocese, having been born and grown up in Londonderry where he was a parishioner of Christ Church.

Omagh bombing: 25th anniversary marked

The victims and survivors of the Omagh bomb atrocity were remembered on Sunday afternoon at a Service of Reflection and Prayer at the town’s Memorial Garden, a short distance from where a car bomb exploded almost a quarter of a century ago, killing 31 people, including unborn twins.

The service was organised jointly by Omagh Churches’ Forum, Fermanagh and Omagh District Council, and family and support organisations in the local community. Among the dignitaries who attended were the Northern Ireland Office minister Lord Caine, the Republic’s Minister of State for European Affairs, Peter Burke, and the former Police Ombudsman, Baroness O’Loan (who headed the Omagh Bomb Inquiry).

Clergy from the four main Christian denominations took part in the service, which was led by the joint chairmen of the Omagh Churches’ Forum, the Church of Ireland’s Rural Dean for Omagh, Rev Canon Robert Clarke, and Drumragh Parish Priest, Fr Eugene Hasson.

There was a touching passage during the Service when the Lord’s Prayer was recited in three different languages — English, Irish and Spanish. A young Spanish woman, Rocio Abad Ramos, and her 12 year old compatriot, Fernando Blasco Baselga, were among those murdered in the explosion.

During the service, Canon Clarke paid tribute to the late Fr Kevin Mullan, who had been a great support to the bereaved at the time of the bombing and had subsequently been a stalwart of the Churches’ Forum. Fr Mullan died earlier this year.

The Omagh bombing led to the greatest loss of life in a single incident in the Northern Ireland ‘Troubles’.

Another Service, this time a private one for relatives and others affected by the bombing, will be held in Omagh Library on Tuesday 15th August — the 25th anniversary explosion. In Buncrana, meanwhile, people will gather at Knockalla Park on Tuesday afternoon for public prayers to remember local children who died in the blast and the other victims of the atrocity.

Rev Chris Matchett to become Priest-in-Charge in new Clondevaddock and Mevagh Group

Reverend Chris Matchett has been appointed Priest-in-Charge of the new Parish Group of Clondevaddock and Mevagh, in north Donegal. The 58-year-old former accountant, who was born and grew up in Londonderry, served as Rector of St Mark’s Church in Newtownards for 12 years and, prior to that, spent seven years as the incumbent of Magheracross (Ballinamallard), in the Diocese of Clogher. He also served two curacies in Down and Dromore.

It is a “bitter-sweet feeling”, he says, to be leaving St Mark’s, where he and his family enjoyed many happy years, but he says he is looking forward to seeing what God has in store for them in this new chapter in their lives and ministry. “We see God’s hand in this,” Rev’d Matchett says. “We didn’t go looking for the move. We weren’t even aware of the vacancy in Clondevaddock, but it was mentioned to us and we thought it could be the right move for us.”

Rev’d Matchett and his wife, Ali, have three grown-up children – the last of whom sat her A-Levels recently – and the couple will be moving to Clondevaddock and Mevagh without their children. “It’s a new start for us, but then it’s a new start for everyone in the new parish group. It’ll be the first time I’ll have been responsible for more than one church. I’ll be looking after four, now [the Church of Christ the Redeemer in Rosnakill; All Saints, Portsalon; Leatbeg Parish Church; and Holy Trinity Church in Carrigart].

“Obviously, we’ve been to the parishes. We’ve enjoyed the stunning scenery. We’ve met some of the people. We’ve been greeted with warmth, openness and generosity. You go there believing it’s the right time and the right place. Ministry in north Donegal will certainly be very different to ministry in Newtownards, but Newtownards was very different to Ballinamallard. There’ll be similarities and there’ll be differences. The task, though – what God calls us to do – never changes. I’ll try to be in listening mode and I’m looking forward to seeing what God has planned for us.”

Ali says she will always be thankful for the warmth shown to their family during their years in Newtownards. “We’re grateful for the time our children spent there as teenagers growing up as a church family. It’ll be hard to leave St Mark’s but the fact that the last of our children is leaving home now suggests, perhaps, that it’s the right time for a move.”    

Rev’d Matchett says leaving St Mark’s and its parishioners will be a huge wrench. “We went to Newtownards looking forward to the opportunity, waiting to find out what plans God had for us, hoping people would welcome us. And that’s what we encountered. People welcomed us into their church family and showed us tremendous generosity.” 

Bishop Andrew Forster says Rev’d Matchett’s decision to accept the position of Priest-in-Charge of Clondevaddock and Mevagh is wonderful news for the Diocese of Derry and Raphoe and for the parishioners in north Donegal. “This is an exciting time for Chris and Ali, and for everyone in Clondevaddock and Mevagh. I trust that his new parishioners will welcome Chris and Ali with their customary warmth and generosity, and that they’ll offer him their ongoing support and prayers.”    

Rev Liz Fitzgerald appointed Diocese’s first female Dean

The Diocese of Derry and Raphoe is to get its first female dean following the appointment of Rev Liz Fitzgerald as Rector of the Grouped Parishes of Raphoe, Raymochy and Clonleigh and Dean of St Eunan’s Cathedral.

News of the appointment, by the Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev Andrew Forster, was announced today at services in the Raphoe Group of churches and in Rev Fitzgerald’s current parishes of Gweedore, Carrickfinn and Templecrone.

The Omagh-native said she may have “squealed” when the proposition was initially put to her by Bishop Forster to succeed Rev Arthur Barrett as Dean. “I think I squealed, ‘Who me?’” 

Mrs Fitzgerald says she is looking forward to the challenge immensely. “Being invited to be Rector of the Raphoe Group and Dean of St Eunan’s Cathedral is very exciting and I’m really looking forward to it. When I was ordained curate, I never thought that I would see a time when I would be in full-time ministry in a parish, so that is very exciting for me. My grandmother lived next door to St Patrick’s Cathedral in Armagh. As a child I’d be in and out of the Cathedral and I just loved the feeling and the atmosphere and I would have worshipped there, so to be invited to be Rector of St Eunan’s Cathedral is wonderful. The ‘Dean bit’ I think is exciting, it’s a privilege. I’ve a lot of learning to do.”

St Eunan’s has a long and distinguished history. The church is 800 years old and people have prayed on the site for 1,400 years. While acknowledging the historic nature of her appointment, Rev Fitzgerald says she is undaunted by it, putting her trust in God.   

“I was brought up in a family where we considered professions as genderless. If it was the right person in the right place to do the right job that was good. The fact that I’ve been appointed [St Eunan’s Cathedral’s] first lady Dean, I don’t feel weighed down by it at all. I think it’s very exciting. It’s certainly an historic event, but I feel the weight of the calling more than the weight of history. Am I daunted? I just feel spiritually guided. I feel spiritually very content in what I’ve been asked to do, and I feel God will be my guide and will see me through it – but I still have to do the graft.”

Rev Fitzgerald will miss her parishioners in west Donegal. “My part of Donegal – Bunbeg, Carrickfinn, Dungloe – is beautiful, and what makes it beautiful is the good, kind people, my parishioners and the people in the community. But about a year ago I had a restlessness deep inside me which I tried to ignore and tried to leave to one side. That restlessness continued all of last year. [Rev Fitzgerald’s husband] Sean had a huge role in Rotary Ireland, my son was on placement in Belfast, our life was upside down and then, all of a sudden, our life is now calm. Sean’s retired. Rotary has stopped. This offer has been presented to me and I’ve said ‘Yes’ because the time is right, I’m ready for another challenge – I’ve time for another challenge – and I thank the Lord that this is my challenge.”

“I’ve always loved the sense of peace in Raphoe Cathedral. It never, ever dawned on me that I would actually end up being Rector of a cathedral and whenever it was proposed to me, I just heard God say, ‘This is yours’. It was the strangest feeling. I didn’t stop and think about it. I just put it totally in God’s hands, and that’s why I’m so calm and excited all at once.”

Rev Fitzgerald says she is not totally sure what being Dean of St Eunan’s entails in its entirety but says she is up for the challenge. “I feel energised, I feel awakened. Sean even said this morning that I look 10 years younger. This has reawakened my call, my duty. I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and learn about the administrative roles and responsibilities of being Dean and Rector, as well as the pastoral needs and the worship needs involved. I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and go.”

A date has yet to be finalised for Rev Fitzgerald’s institution as Rector and installation as Dean. “The only thing that I have in my head,” Rev Fitzgerald says, “is that St Eunan’s Day is the 23rd of September and it would be lovely if something could happen around St Eunan’s Day.

“It’s all a bit of a fantasy to me. George Otto Simms was the Archbishop in Armagh when I was a child. He inspired in me how central to the Church and yet how important to our faith a cathedral and cathedral worship can be. I just feel privileged. Thank you, God. Thank you for letting me serve this way.”Bishop Forster has congratulated Rev Fitzgerald on her appointment and thanked her for her ministry in the Gweedore Group. “On behalf of the Diocese, I wish to express my gratitude to Liz for her generous and faith-filled witness in Gweedore, Carrickfinn and Templecrone. She is a gifted priest and pastor, and will share those gifts with her new parishioners in Raphoe, Raymochy and Clonleigh. I trust that parishioners in Raphoe, Manorcunningham and Lifford will welcome Liz warmly and offer her their prayers and support.”

Diocese’s First ‘OLM’ ministers ordained

Bishop Andrew Forster ordained two new deacons for the Diocese of Derry and Raphoe at a
St Peter’s Day service in St Columb’s Cathedral in Londonderry. Rev Brian Robinson will
serve in the Balteagh Group of Parishes and Rev Sean McClafferty will serve in the
Taughboyne Group.


Rev McClafferty’s wife, Jennifer, and their daughter, Zara, were in the Cathedral for the
service, as were Rev Robinson’s wife, Mary, his mother, Joyce, and his son, Andrew. In the
days leading up to their ordination, the two new deacons spent time on retreat with Bishop
Andrew and the Diocese’s two Archdeacons, Venerable David Huss and Venerable Robert
Miller.


Bishop Andrew said it was a pleasure and an honour to welcome the congregation to St
Columb’s Cathedral on a very, very special occasion. It was, he said, an evening of delight
and celebration, but it was also an evening of solemnity and prayer. “We know that this step
of faith, that Sean and Brian take, is of deep significance to them and to the whole Church,”
Bishop Andrew said, “so, we come seeking the support, the help and the equipping of God’s
Holy Spirit.”


The Dean of Derry, Very Rev Raymond Stewart, and the Parish of Templemore’s Pastoral
Assistant, Rev Canon John Merrick, took part in the service, along with the Bishop and the
two Archdeacons. The Diocesan Registrar, Rev Canon David Crooks, and the Balteagh
Group Rector, Rev Rhys Jones, delivered the first and second readings, while the Gospel was
read by the Dean.


In his sermon, Bishop Andrew described ordinations as “special” occasions. Thursday
evening’s service had “an added specialness”, he said, because it marked the beginning of a
new form of ministry in the Diocese of Derry and Raphoe – Ordained Local Ministry. “As
this new sphere of service begins, tonight, your families, your friends, your parishes, the
Diocese and, indeed, the whole Church of Jesus Christ is right with you, it delights in you,
and tonight we want to bless you in the name of God as you take this hugely significant step
in your journey of faith.”


An ordination reminded all of us, not just those who are being ordained, that we were bearers
of Good News, Bishop Andrew said, that we shared light where there was darkness, brought
hope instead of despair, and shared purpose instead of disillusionment.


“Tonight,” he said, “as we celebrate and anticipate, we delight in the power of the Gospel to
bring salvation and hope to a needy world.


“The culture that we live in has shifted in most of our lifetimes. When I was boy, society was
fairly positive about the Christian faith. It was seen as a good thing to be part of a church. It
was seen as a positive thing to hold to Christian values. And then there was a bit of a shift
where it maybe became fairly neutral, where society really didn’t care that much about
church, didn’t really care that much about faith, and sort of said, ‘Well, if that’s what you want
[then] that’s fine.’ But, you know, over the last number of years I think there’s been another
shift, where society around us has become actually pretty hostile to Christian faith, pretty
hostile to the things that we hold to be the greatest treasures for the world.


“Now, what do we do in a situation like that? Well, first of all, it doesn’t do us any good just
to sort of hark back to the past and think of some golden days that didn’t really ever exist, to be honest, and wish that we were like that again. It’s not going to happen. It’s in the past. What we need to do now is work out through the spirit of God, and through engaging with His word, what it means to live faithfully, to live fruitfully and to live positively for Jesus Christ in the culture of today.


“And I believe that even in that sort of sense of negativity about faith, God still calls us to be
confident in Christ. He calls us to be confident people, and we have much to be confident in,
we have plenty to be positive about. Why? Because you will attest to it. Faith in Jesus Christ
works. It works in every culture and every country. It works for every age group and
profession. It works for every colour and class.


“All over the world, and in this cathedral tonight, there are people who will tell you how
Jesus Christ has rescue them from addiction and desperation, from despair and hopelessness.
All over the world, and right across our diocese, there are churches that are making a positive
difference. They are sharing hope and love in their communities.


“Do you know, it’s the most wonderful thing in the world to be a follower of Jesus Christ, and
it’s the most wonderful thing to be part of His family in what we call the Church of Jesus
Christ. So, don’t lose confidence in what God has called us to be and what He calls us to do
for Him.”


Bishop Andrew reflected on the Gospel reading (Mark 10: 35-45, recounting ‘The Request of
James and John’ [to sit at Jesus’s right and left hand in His glory]). The Bishop felt the
passage explained how bearers of the Good News ought to proclaim the Good News.
“‘Whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first
among you must be slave of all,’ says Jesus”.


Bishop Andrew shared with the congregation an account of a dinner party that he and his
wife attended, a number of years ago, in a rather smart part of London. They were greeted on
arrival by a butler who took their coats and ushered them into the drawing room. When the
time came for dinner, they were brought to the dining room where the meal was served by a
maid. “Whenever we left that house, we thought, ‘What wonderful hosts – how kind they
were, how good the food was, and how relaxed they made us feel – and they did. We never
really thought that much about the staff, who had the place looking great, who had prepared
the meal, and I’m sure did the dishes. And I suppose that meant the staff had done their job
really well. They brought all the attention to the master of the house.


“Now, in the passage, Jesus tells us that the very heart of all of our ministry – and the ministry
of a deacon has a special emphasis on this – that the very heart of all our ministry is
servanthood – to be a servant. And as servants, it’s all about bringing attention to the master.
That’s what we’re about. That’s what we’re for: to bring attention to Jesus, so that people will
find hope in Him. And I think the passage tells us about the character of a servant and the
characteristics of servanthood.”


Bishop Andrew said that in the Gospel reading, James and John had shown an unfortunate
paradox that all in ministry had to be very careful of. They hoped to honour Jesus whilst
honouring themselves. “How easily worship and discipleship can be blended with self-
interest or, worse, self-interest masked as worship and discipleship. We see something
completely different with Jesus. He renounces status for the wellbeing of those He comes to

serve. And I’m sure that the character of a disciple, that the character of a servant, needs to be
one which decides to turn from self-interest and to renounce a worldly view of status.


“You see, James’ and John’s request, to be honest, was elitist and self-serving, and there’s a
lot in our society today that would tempt us to act in the same way. No temptation is stronger
or subtler than pride. Pastors and church leaders are vulnerable, because we’re always in the
limelight. And it’s exactly what we see with James and John – pride crept in. And we need
constantly to remember that Jesus introduced into the world a new style of servant leadership.
The character of a disciple? Whoever wants to become great amongst you must be your
servant. And whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.


“One scholar, T.W. Manson, sums it up like this: ‘In the Kingdom of God, service is not a
steppingstone to nobility, it is nobility – the only nobility that is recognised.'”


Bishop Andrew said Jesus was the obvious role model for Christians and Christian leaders.
“When we look to Christ, we see the ultimate in self-giving and self-sacrifice. We see the one
who poured Himself out for us, who met people at their point of need, who knew tiredness
and hunger and rejection, He knew what it was to be unfairly treated and maligned.”


Servanthood is not easy, Bishop Andrew said. ‘The slave of all’, as Jesus put it, would know
pain and heartache. “Discipleship is not an easy option. Look at the great heroes of Scripture.
Abraham had to up sticks and leave all that he was familiar with. Moses had to risk his life
and go to Pharaoh and say, ‘Let my people go’. Job had to endure the unfairness of suffering.
Mary had to live with gossip and whispering. Paul was shipwrecked and flogged. The
disciples endured martyrdom. Jesus goes to the cross. Servanthood is not easy, but it is how
we will reach out to this needy world with the cause of the Gospel.”


The Bishop recalled his own ordination in offering some words of advice for the new
deacons. “Brian and Sean, guard your own spiritual life because without it our ministry fails.
When I was ordained, I was given a card by an elderly clergyman who has now gone to
receive his heavenly reward. I don’t know whether these were his words or not but he put this
on the card: ‘Andrew, stay close to Jesus, stay close to His word and stay close to people’. It
was good advice and it’s good advice that has stood the test of time and it’s good advice for
you gentlemen, too.”


Music for Thursday’s Service of Ordination was provided by The Cathedral Choir, directed
by Dr Derek Collins, and accompanied by Mr Nicky Morton on the organ.

Rev’d Claire Henderson ordained a priest

There was a mood of celebration and tremendous thankfulness in Derg Parish Church
on Thursday evening as Rev Claire Henderson was ordained priest by the Bishop of
Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev Andrew Forster. The new curate has battled against serious
illness in the three years since she was ordained deacon, including two spells in
intensive care. Bishop Andrew said to Rev Henderson, “After what you’ve been through
these last number of years, Claire, this was just the work of God’s spirit that you were
brought to these parishes [of Derg and Termonamongan]. I really think God’s hand was
in that.”

The new priest served her most of her diaconate under the guidance of the Rector of the
Derg Group of Parishes, Rev Peter Ferguson, who preached the sermon at the Service
of Ordination. The new curate’s parents, George and Jean, sat beside her in the front
pew, along with her brother, David, who delivered the first reading.

In his sermon, the Rector recounted his great admiration for the famous polar explorer,
Sir Ernest Shackleton, whose 1914 expedition on the ship Endurance was, he said,
regarded as the greatest example of survival in history. “If the words ‘endurance’ and
‘survival’ could be applied to anyone I have the privilege to know,” Rev Ferguson said, “it
would be to Claire.”

Thursday evening’s service was more than an ordination, the Preacher said. “It’s a
celebration of life and grateful thanks to God for His grace. It is remarkable that we stand
with Claire here today. Praise be to the Lord.”

Rev Henderson’s experience had prompted Rev Ferguson to choose a passage from
Hebrews 12:1-12 for the first reading. “I keep thinking of these words when I think of
Claire,” he said. “‘Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of
witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.
And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.’

“I love these verses. They remind us that as Christians we are in Jesus’s team. We don’t
live the Christian life or run the Christian race alone, and we see evidence of that this
evening all around. We have a great cloud of witnesses. We are part of Jesus’s family
and team from all over the world and all over the ages who cheer each other on. And so,
Claire, hear those words: keep going, don’t give up, persevere.

“I’m sure Claire can testify to so many who have heard and prayed for her over the
years. I think of her parents. Without their love and Christian example, would we be here
today? And I think of so many who have cheered Claire on in recent years, in her home
parish, in our rural deanery, in the diocese and beyond.

“Run the race with perseverance. In 2020, in ‘lock-down’, Claire was ordained deacon
and after a short spell in Raphoe joined us in Derg and Killeter, at a time when we were
recording services online. Claire you don’t like taking the easy approach, do you, at all?”
That was borne out by Rev Henderson’s bouts of serious illness (which resulted in her
admitted to ICU on two occasions). “I remember Claire sending me messages from ICU
about parish ministry and ideas that she had. I said, ‘Claire, you’re in ICU; would you
rest for goodness sake?’”

The preacher spoke, too, about “the amazing places and people” Jesus leads us to when we are on His team. “Reverend Claire, just think of it: from being a long-term patient in the S.W.A.H. to visiting others in that very ward – encouraging patients and staff alike – with a totally unique insight; to standing in this pulpit and other pulpits with a message to share; leading bible studies and leading sessions on mental health; developing a new outreach ministry in our parish group for seniors called ‘JOY’ – Just Older Youth (and yes Claire came up with that title and I think it’s a great one, ‘JOY’, Just Older Youth. What an adventure and Claire, the adventure continues.

“As Claire embarks on this significant step, may we embark upon it with her. Jesus isn’t
finished with us yet and he never will be, so we keep going, we keep running with our
eyes fixed on him. The adventure continues for Claire and the adventure continues for
us all.”

Rev Ferguson said he was excited about the next step in his curate’s “adventure with
God” and what it would mean for the clergy team, the parish group, the rural deanery
and the diocese as she entered into part-time stipendiary curacy.

The Rector and the Bishop were joined by two Archdeacons for Thursday’s service,
Venerable Robert Miller (Archdeacon of Derry) and Venerable David Huss (Archdeacon
of Raphoe). Rev Carmen Hayes was the Bishop’s Curate for the occasion. Clergy from
both dioceses attended the service and took part in the ‘laying on of hands’. Music for
the service was provided by the Derg Parish Group organist, Gordon Speer.

Afterwards, the congregation moved to the nearby parish youth hall for refreshments
and speeches. The new curate said: “Most of you’ll know this has been quite the journey
for me. I was ordained at the height of Covid in 2020 and I was meant to be in Raphoe
but Dean Arthur [Barrett] moved on and I was reassigned to Peter.”

Rev Henderson thanked her rector for his leadership and support. During her three
years as Deacon, she said, she had spent a long time in hospital but knew the whole
time that the parishes were praying for her. “That kept me strong, and they’re still
praying for me and that’s what keeps me going”. She was excited now to see what the
future held for her as curate in Derg and Termonamongan.

Bishop Andrew also thanked the Rector for the training he had been providing for Rev
Henderson, and expressed gratitude, too, to the parishioners of St John’s and St
Bestius’ Churches. “What you’ve found in Derg and Termonamongan,” he told Rev
Henderson, “are warm-hearted, big-hearted, loving-hearted people who have taken you
to their hearts, and cared for you and have been blessed by you as you seek to be a
blessing to them.”

The Bishop recalled how inspirational Claire had been during her spells in hospital.
“When Claire was in hospital – it was Covid times, and we couldn’t [visit] – and I used to
phone her up, knowing she was really ill, and yet she was cheerful, she was positive,
she was prayerful, she was faith-filled. It was really humbling for me.

“So, Claire, we just delight, tonight. At times we wondered was this going to happen,
were you going to be able to take the next step in ministry? And the Lord has provided
the way and we bless His holy name for that and give Him the glory in what He’s been
doing in your life and what He continues to do in the life of these great parishes.”

Epic Iona voyage commemorated

Sixty years after their voyage by currach to Iona – following in the spiritual and historical slipstream of Saint Columba – the four surviving crew members gathered with relatives and friends in St Patrick’s Church in Bunbeg last Sunday, the saint’s feast day, for a special service commemorating and celebrating their epic journey.

The idea for the original pilgrimage had been conceived by the late Canon John Barry, then-Rector of Hillsborough, as a way of marking the 1400th anniversary of Columba’s voyage to the Scottish island where he was to settle, found a monastery and, eventually, die. 

The crew for the journey was assembled by Maghera parishioner Wallace Clarke, a well-known and highly respected sailor (who also acted as skipper), and the boat was built by Bunbeg parishioner Jim Boyd, who was part of the crew who rowed to Iona.

Of the thirteen who made the journey, only four are still alive – Jim, Billy Patterson, Alistair Jameson and Jim Connolly. The quartet joined the Bishop’s Curate -in-Charge of Gweedore, Carrickfinn and Templecrone, Rev Liz Fitzgerald, in Bunbeg Parish Church last Sunday for a service which had ‘Journey of Faith’ as its theme.

Rev Fitzgerald began by reading an extract from an article in the June 1962 Church of Ireland Gazette which described the planning that had gone into the journey. She told the congregation that the voyage of 60 years ago had been a “journey of faith” as the men rowed in their 30-foot by 5-foot-seven currach to Iona – faith that they would make it safe and sound. It was also, she said, a journey of faith as in a pilgrimage; the adventure and journey deepened the faith and commitment these men had for their Lord God.

Throughout the service, a cross that the crew made and took with them to Iona, 60 years ago, was displayed at the front of the church. The service ended with a slide show and a talk about the voyage, and this in turn was followed by tea, fellowship and then lunch.

Mr Boyd disclosed that he had received a letter from the curator of the Tower Museum in Londonderry confirming that the original currach was in safe storage and would feature as an exhibit when the new maritime museum opens.

Note: the first photo shows the four surviving crew members (front row left to right) Jim Boyd and Billy Patterson; and (back row left to right) Alistair Jameson and Jim Connolly.

Hundreds enjoy ‘family fun day’

Around 300 people – from the very youngest to the (ahem) most knowledgeable – took part in today’s Diocesan Family Fun Day at the Ulster American Folk Park near Omagh.

It was a most encouraging turn-out for the organisers – Diocesan Children’s Officer Kirsty McCartney of SEEDS Children’s Ministry, Diocesan Youth Officer Claire Hinchliff from Derry and Raphoe Youth, and the indefatigable members of Derry and Raphoe Mothers’ Union, led by their president, Jacqui Armstrong.

The day began with some group time – including an interactive story, music, and prayer – in the Meeting House. Worship was led by the local Rector, Rev Graham Hare, with The Rector of Urney, Rev Johnny McFarland, supporting him on the guitar.

Bishop Andrew Forster welcomed those present, and thanked Kirsty and Claire and the “wonderful” Mothers’ Union for organising the Fun Day. Bishop Andrew also introduced the two newest members of the Diocese’s clergy cohort: Rev Andrew Neill, who will be ordained to the priesthood in September, and Rev Susan Elliott, who was instituted as Rector of the Inver Group early last month.

After worship, there were street games, stories, songs and a treasure hunt for those who wanted them while others were free to wander off and visit the park’s many attractions.

The weather for the day was hot but overcast, and there were plenty of rather fetching hats being sported to protect wearers from the sun’s UV rays.