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‘Open Door’ ministry unveiled at Christ Church Londonderry

Christ Church Londonderry will be opened to the public on a daily basis from next week under its new ‘Open Door’ ministry. The initiative was unveiled informally, this week, when dozens of children from the Model Primary School visited the church along with their teachers.

Small groups of pupils were given short ‘guided tours’ of the building on Infirmary Road by the Rector, Archdeacon Robert Miller; the CCCMSP Group’s Pastoral Director, Rev Canon Katie McAteer; and Select Vestry members Jim Kelley and Irwin Thompson.

The pupils got a chance to test their learning skills by answering questions about the church as they made their way round the building. During their visit, they heard about Christ Church’s 200-year-old history, the stories behind its famous stained-glass windows and the background to the ornate carvings on the altar; quite a few of the children also took the opportunity to climb into the pulpit and experience what it felt like to be a preacher. 

Under the ‘Open Door’ initiative, the church will be open daily – “except, perhaps, on Christmas Day,” Jim suggested. “We want the building to be not just a congregational thing for the churchgoers, but [a building] for community use. 

“Ordinary people can come in and sit and meditate if they want,” Jim said, “it’s available for that purpose. But it’s also interesting from an historical point of view: from the First World War material we have; the windows are of national significance; we’ve got records here – we never sent them to Dublin, so they weren’t destroyed in the big fire in the 1920s – we’ve got all our records going back to 1801. We had a lady in last weekend, [who] knew that her grandparents were married here. We had the book out and she found them. ‘I don’t suppose my mum would be in here?’ We found her baptism – there were tears rolling down her face.”

Irwin delighted in sharing the stories behind the famous windows and pointed out some of the well-known names on a plaque commemorating local victims of the two World Wars. “Fifty people from this church died in the First World War,” he said, “out of the one hundred who left to fight in it, so half of them never came back. I was never fond of history at school, but the people’s stories fascinate me.”

Christ Church is already established as a venue for musical performances, but the Select Vestry has ambitious plans to reinstate the first Thursday recitals which were once a feature of life in the parish. The Vestry also intends to create an exhibition area in an under-used part of the church and to digitise parish records so they will be more easily available to historians and visitors – including from overseas.

“We’ve got an idea for some drama stuff, as well,” Jim says, “with the First World War. The Imperial War Museum is making grants available for that so we’re following that one up. And so it goes on. We’re just opening the doors and saying, ‘This can be used. It’s one of the biggest halls in town. We can use it for other things. We’ve got brilliant acoustics. Radio Three have used it [for broadcasting performances]. Barry Douglas comes to play the piano in here. Ruth McGinley performs here. So, it’s brilliant from that point of view.’

“To be perfectly frank, what we’re actually talking about is saying that we’ve been a sort of closed door, exclusive thing – because of circumstances, nobody’s fault, it’s been one of those things – and what we’re now saying is we’re a Christian community, and you can use it for community use, but you can also use it for religious purposes. If you need an act of faith in some way this is a place that you can use.”

The ‘Open Door’ project is itself, in a sense, an act of faith. Only five years ago, Christ Church was violated in a break-in, during which one of the stained-glass windows was smashed and extensive damage was caused to the church organ. So did Jim detect any hint of trepidation among his fellow Select Vestry members? “Not at all. The Select Vestry were enthusiastic and said, ‘Yes’. I’ve spoken to Bishop Andrew; to Bishop Donal across the road [in St Eugene’s Cathedral]; both of them said, ‘Great, go for it.’ Long Tower does it. Pennyburn does it. St Augustine’s is doing it. We’re doing it. So, the whole area now is raising its profile and we’ll just see what comes of it.” 

The ‘Open Door’ initiative goes public on Monday 27th June. From then on, the church will be open from 10.30am to 4pm, seven days a week. 

New Rector instituted in Maghera

The faces of the parishioners of Maghera and Killelagh were wreathed in smiles on Thursday evening as they welcomed the institution of their new Rector, Rev Jonathan Brown in St Lurach’s Church in Maghera. The new incumbent’s former parishioners, who had travelled all the way from Hillsborough for the occasion, looked less pleased, although they wished him well in his new ministry, conceding – generously and graciously – that in Rev Brown his new parishioners were getting “a good man”.

The Service of Institution marked the end of an eight-month vacancy following the resignation of the previous incumbent, Rev Terence Kerr.

Bishop Andrew Forster welcomed the congregation to a “special occasion for all of us – for the parishioners, for the diocese and most especially for Jonathan and Julie”. He said he and the congregation were looking forward to getting to know the new Rector better. “One of the things that everybody wants to find out from Jonathan Brown,” Bishop Andrew said, “is how come he looks so young?”

It was a good sign for the parishioners of Maghera and Killelagh, the Bishop suggested, that two of their former rectors had returned to St Lurach’s for the service. The Bishop said Rev Canon Ian McDonald and Archdeacon Robert Miller were delighted to come back. 

The sermon was preached by the Rev Canon Dr Bryan Follis, the Rector of Hillsborough Parish where Rev Brown had served as a curate. Dr Follis had chosen the first reading from Scripture, from Nehemiah 1:1-11. The congregation may have wondered, he said, how the passage – which was set in Babylon in 450 BC – could be relevant to a church and rector in Northern Ireland in 2022? The Bible was the word of God, he said; it had direct relevance for all God’s people, at all times and in all places. “It’s the word of God,” Dr Follis said, “and as such it’s supreme within our church in all matters of faith and conduct.”

The preacher said he wanted to focus on the insight the reading afforded into the person and character of Nehemiah, and apply that to Rev Brown and to his new parish. Nehemiah was a godly man, who made a significant impact for the Kingdom of God. “It wasn’t just projects; people mattered to Nehemiah.” Nehemiah was pastoral, prayerful and prophetic. He had a concern and a passion for those in need; he shared their pain and felt their pain. “Any rector in any parish who will make any meaningful contribution to that parish, must be pastoral. And to the people of this parish, I want to reassure you that Jonathan Brown is extremely pastoral. One of the things about Jonathan which stand out from his time as a colleague in Hillsborough is his deep concern and care for individual parishioners. He is very pastoral, and I believe that as your rector Jonathan will prove an effective and faithful rector.”

The preacher urged Rev Brown to be “proactive” like Nehemiah. “Be ‘out and about’, get to know individuals, build relationships, be known as their pastor as well as their rector, not just formally but relationally and pastorally as someone whom they can trust, someone who cares – for that is who you are – and know your people individually. May God use you as an instrument of grace and mercy in this place.”

Dr Brown appealed to the people of Maghera and Killelagh to support their new Rector. “Jonathan is not – despite being very able, despite being a hard worker – is not a one-man band, to do all the work or ministry of this parish.” To put it bluntly and practically, the preacher said, that meant that every parishioner who was a believer and who trusted in Christ, had a ministry, a role and a responsibility. It might be with Sunday school; it might be assisting at a service, or catering at a parish function. “Whatever our talents, whatever our gifts, whatever our personality – and we’re all different – but each believer is called to serve the Lord.

“As Jonathan serves here in this parish, there needs to be a partnership with the people. Jonathan is called by God to be pastoral, to be prayerful and to be prophetic. But you, the believers, are called to a partnership. Honour that calling. Jonathan, I know, will honour God’s calling upon him, and I invite the parish to honour God’s calling upon you in partnership.”

Thursday’s Service of Institution was organised by the Rural Dean, Rev Canon Colin Welsh. Bishop Andrew was assisted by the Archdeacon of Derry, Ven Robert Miller (who presented the incumbent-elect for institution); Diocesan Registrar, Rev Canon David Crooks; and by the Bishop’s Curate, Rev Carmen Hayes.

After the service, the congregation made their way to the adjoining parish hall for speeches and supper.

To be Queen has been ‘a divine calling’ – Bishop Andrew tells Jubilee congregation

The Bishop of Derry and Raphoe has told the congregation at a Platinum Jubilee Service in St Columb’s Cathedral that if they are truly to honour Her Majesty the Queen – both her constancy and her service – then they would seek to follow her example and put their faith in “the great reconciler” Jesus Christ.

Rt Rev Andrew Forster was addressing a congregation that included the Vice Lord Lieutenant for the County Borough of Londonderry, Mr Ian Crowe MBE DL; Rt. Hon. Conor Burns MP, Minister of State at the Northern Ireland Office; and Derry City and Strabane District Councillor Philip McKinney, who was representing the Mayor, Alderman Graham Warke.

The service was led by the Dean of Derry, Very Rev Raymond Stewart, who was assisted by leading members of the four main churches in the city. The Bishop of Derry, Dr Donal McKeown, the Moderator of the Presbytery of Derry and Donegal, Rev Graeme Orr, and the Minister of Carlisle Road Methodist Church, Rev John Montgomery read prayers during the service, while Bishop Forster preached the sermon. The readings were delivered by Mr Crowe and Cllr McKinney.

In his sermon, Bishop Andrew said footage of the new Queen Elizabeth arriving at London airport, in February 1952, after a flight from Nairobi, and being greeted on the runway by her first Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, seemed almost like another world. “Post-war rationing was still in place,” the Bishop said, “major cities across the country still bore the scars of bombing raids. It seems impossible to get our heads around the incredible changes in our world in those 70 years, changes that have been both exhilarating and, at times, bewildering.

“Over the last couple of days, there’ve been many, many tributes paid to the Queen. One of the words that keeps cropping up is ‘constant’ – the constancy of Her Majesty. And think about it. Look back on your own life, at all the changes that you’ve had, both good and bad, and the constant presence has been Queen Elizabeth.

“On her 21st birthday, when the young Princess Elizabeth dedicated herself to our service in these now famous words, she said: ‘I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service.’ She then said, ‘God, help me to make good my vow.’ On the eve of her coronation, she asked: ‘Pray that God may give me wisdom and strength to carry out the solemn promises I shall be making, and that I may faithfully serve Him and you all the days of my life.’

“If ever you needed evidence that God answers prayer, here we have it in the life of the Queen: her constant presence, her faithfulness, her dignity. And what has been the golden thread running throughout these 70 years? It is the golden thread of service to us and service to God: service that has made her the constant in our lives; service that has both inspired and humbled us; service that has profoundly benefitted the life of this nation and the Commonwealth; service that in her understated way has put both presidents and paupers at ease in her presence; service that has led us through times of great celebration and times of great hardship; service that has moved us and blessed us.”

Bishop Andrew recalled the Queen’s words to the nation on the 5th of April, 2020, two or three weeks into a lockdown none of us had ever experienced. “She said this: ‘We should take comfort that better days will return. We will be with our friends again. We will be with our families again. We will meet again.’ I don’t in any way mean this to sound disrespectful but for me it seemed like she was like the nation’s grandmother, comforting us, helping us, guiding us and giving us hope in those dark days of the lockdown.”

The Platinum Jubilee may prove to be unique in history, the Bishop said. He remembered as a child celebrating the Silver Jubilee, at a street party in 1977. On that occasion, he said, the poet, Philip Larkin, penned these words: ‘In times when nothing stood but worsened, or grew strange, there was one constant good: she did not change.’

“One constant good,” Bishop Andrew repeated, “the constant life of service; the constant in our lives that we are thankful for tonight. But for her, there is one great constant in her life, her faith in Jesus Christ, the one whom Scripture tells us comes not to serve but to be served.

“The Queen speaks both beautifully and vividly about her faith in Christ. She uses words to speak of her faith, one of them being this little sentence: ‘I draw strength,’ she said, ‘from the message of hope in the Christian Gospel.’ But she speaks eloquently of that faith in her life of devoted service. For her, to be Queen has been a vocation – not simply a role, but a divine calling. Her faith has shaped her service and her life, and that remains an example for us all.

“And may I presume to say that her faith has also shaped the influence that she has brought to bear in this place that we call home, in Northern Ireland. The divisions of our society are sometimes obvious and at other times more subtle, but they are divisions that have blinded us and diminished each one of us. It seems to me that the Queen has given us an example of quite literally stretching out the hand of reconciliation.

“It is never an easy or simple thing to do, but perhaps she tells us why and how she does it. Her Christmas speech – 2007 she said this – ‘Mary and Joseph found no room in the inn. They had to make do with a stable and the new-born Jesus had to be laid in a manger. This was a family which had been shut out. Perhaps it was because of this early experience that throughout his ministry Jesus of Nazareth reached out and made friends with people whom others ignored or despised. It was in this way that he proclaimed his belief that in the end we are all brothers and sisters in one human family.’

“Every Christmas, I always think, she says it far better than any preacher can. A life rooted in faith and inspired by hope and inspired by the hope of Christ to build a better world.

“In her message to the people of Northern Ireland on the centenary of the foundation of Northern Ireland, she said these probing and searching words for each and every one of us. ‘It is clear that reconciliation, equality and mutual understanding cannot be taken for granted and will require sustained fortitude and commitment.

“If we are truly to honour Her Majesty the Queen – both her constancy and her service – then we will also seek to follow her example and, like her, put our faith in the one who is truly constant, the one who is the same yesterday, today and for ever, the one who comes to be a servant of us all, who is Jesus Christ – the great reconciler – whose ministry is the ministry of reconciliation, reconciling us to God through the cross; reconciling us to our neighbours and our friends and even to our enemies; the one who comes to transform and to bless.

“And on this Platinum Jubilee that we are all honoured to celebrate, today we look to the example of the Queen and we look to the one who has inspired that example, Jesus Christ. And I commend him to you, both as saviour and as friend. And as we seek to live out the example of Christ, we, too, can make the world, and even the place that we live in, a better, more hopeful, more loving, more gracious place, and we do it in the name of Christ. Amen.” 

During Friday evening’s service, Bishop Andrew dedicated a new kneeler, which was made by members of Templemore Mothers’ Union to mark the centenary. It took 11 of the women almost 70 hours – spread across nine day – to cross-stitch the kneeler. It was brought to the Cathedral by the Branch leader, Irene Hewitt, and presented to the Bishop by Church Warden Muriel Hamilton.

Beacon lit to mark Queen’s Platinum Jubilee

The Vice Lord Lieutenant for the County Borough of Londonderry, Mr Ian Crowe MBE DL, has lit a beacon at the main gate of St Columb’s Cathedral to mark the Platinum Jubilee of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth.

It was one of 1,500 such beacons set alight across the UK and Commonwealth on Friday evening to celebrate the Queen’s seven decades on the throne. The Queen has become the first UK monarch to reach this milestone.

Leading members of the four main churches in Londonderry joined the Mayor, civic, business and community leaders in a throng of people who gathered for Thursday evening’s ceremony.

The Mayor of Derry and Strabane District, Alderman Graham Warke, said it was an honour to welcome those present to a special occasion in which they were joining with many other people throughout the world. The Vice Lord Lieutenant read out a proclamation to commemorate the Platinum Jubilee, before lighting the beacon.

During the ceremony, the Gentlemen of the Cathedral Choir sang ‘A Song for the Commonwealth’, a piper played ‘Diu Regnare’ and a bugler played ‘Majesty’.

As the ceremony drew to a close, the Moderator of the Presbytery of Derry and Donegal, Rev Graeme Orr, the Minister of Carlisle Road Methodist Church, Rev John Montgomery, the Bishop of Derry, Dr Donal McKeown, and the Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev Andrew Forster, led prayers of thanksgiving for the Queen.

Bishop Andrew said our hearts were filled with celebration as we gave thanks for 70 years of Queen Elizabeth’s reign. “Her majesty has been a beacon of duty,” the Bishop said, “pledged as a young woman; a beacon of service, unfailingly given; a beacon of reconciliation, lived out in her many visits to Northern Ireland and, indeed, to the Republic of Ireland; a beacon of devotion who, as sovereign, has guarded our democracy; a beacon of hope, in darker days, addressing her nation in times of peril; a beacon of self-sacrifice, giving of herself to share the burdens of others; a beacon of steadfastness, leading by example of both strength and humility; and a beacon of faith. Our sovereign Queen who is a beacon to us all, knows within herself one who is a greater light, the one who is known as the light of the world, Jesus Christ.

“A number of years ago, in one of her Christmas addresses, she said this: ‘Billions of people follow Christ’s teaching and find in him the guiding light of their lives. I am one of them.’

“So, this evening, as all of her people, we give thanks to God for our sovereign lady, Queen Elizabeth, and we pray that the light that has shone so brightly in her life – the light of faith – would shine in each one of our lives. And we pray that her example would inspire us to acts of duty and service, to acts of compassion and kindness, that Her Majesty has shown through her long reign. And we, this evening – the people of this great city – give thanks for that example and pray for her continued health and wellbeing.”

Glendermott ‘Men’s Shed’ opens

Bishop Andrew Forster has opened the Parish of Glendermott’s new Men’s Shed on a reclaimed site behind the Parish Hall on Church Brae in Londonderry.

The project is the brainchild of Select Vestry member Joanne Miller and the six men who comprise the Glen Fruit and Vegetable Growers group. The team, with help from the Rector, Rev Robert Boyd, cleared an area of land in a hollow to the rear of the rectory, and planted it with a variety of vegetables and fruit. They also erected a large polytunnel which has been filled with raised beds containing more ‘fruit and veg’.

Rev Boyd said the project – which was conceived and completed during the pandemic – had been “a lifeline” for some of the men involved.

Bishop Andrew cut an improvised ‘ribbon’ – in reality a piece of twisted sacking, or “recycled ribbon”, as it was jokingly described – to officially ‘open’ the Men’s Shed.

Bishop Andrew said he was delighted to see the land being reclaimed and used for greater glory. He said the Men’s Shed spoke clearly about the Parish’s commitment to its community. “What we have, here,” he said, “is a wonderful example of how as a community we can thrive together, and how we can reach out to the wider community, as well.

“One of the really important things to us, as followers of Jesus Christ,” the Bishop said, “is also how we care for the environment, and tend the environment around us, and I think that’s becoming more and more of an issue for us as Christians as we realise what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. [It means] to care for the creation that he gives us. This is a fabulous example of how we tend creation, care for creation, and delight in the created order that God gives us. When we walk inside this and see the tomato plants and onions and everything else growing, isn’t it wonderful to see the creativity of God?

“The third thing I want to say is this: in Mark’s Gospel, there’s a little verse that we often skip over. It talks about Jesus choosing his disciples and it simply says this: he chose them that they might be with him. Now what does that mean? For me that talks about friendship and companionship, and the world that we live in – we’re very connected with social media, and so on – but we’re not the friends we used to be. People tend to be apart and isolated, and we suffer because of that. And what Glendermott Parish, through this brilliant project, is doing is supporting friendship and supporting companionship, which is at the heart of the Gospel. And for this Parish to lead the way in this project is an example to us all.”

After the opening ceremony, parishioners, clergy and members of the Men’s Shed team enjoyed refreshments in the hall. The fare on offer included homegrown salad sandwiches (made with leaves grown literally a few metres away), and a stunning cake, baked by parishioner Catherine Boyd, which looked like a work of art. Indeed, the cake – which had been decorated to look like a flourishing allotment – looked so good, the Bishop said, that it was almost a sin to cut it. But he did cut it. And it tasted every bit as good as it looked.

In-person Healing Service in Drumholm Church

The small village of Ballintra, in County Donegal, was the venue, on Sunday 29th May, for the first in-person Healing Service in the diocese since the pandemic struck, over two years ago. The Service of Celebration of Wholeness and Healing, in Drumholm Parish Church – one of the southernmost churches in the diocese – was led by the Rector of Macosquin, Rev Paul Lyons, who is Warden of the Derry and Raphoe Ministry of Healing. He was assisted by Rev Heather Houlton, who preached the sermon and took part in the laying on of hands; Archdeacon David Huss, who provided music; and Wendy McCool and Brian Seaton, from the Diocese’s Healing Ministry team, who delivered the Gospel readings and helped with the private prayers afterwards.

The clergy and congregation – which included people from different denominations – were welcomed to the church by the Rector of Drumholm, Kilbarron and Rossnowlagh, Rev Canon Brian Russell.

Rev Lyons said those taking part in the service “believed fervently in the power of prayer”. He encouraged members of the congregation to avail of the opportunity for prayer: “Maybe it’s for illness, maybe it’s for a relationship, maybe it’s for a certain situation.”

In her sermon, Rev Houlton said those present were thinking mainly of sickness of “body, mind and spirit”. She commended Romans Chapter 8 to anyone who was feeling down. “It’s filled with encouraging words,” she said, “especially the second half of the chapter, so, remember that: pull out your Bible and read Romans 8 as soon as you can.”

Rev Houlton said that she had been on teams praying for healing for many years and had seen answers to prayer. “When the Holy Spirit touches us,” she said, “it is possible for us to experience healing because the Holy Spirit is so powerful. He was there at the beginning of creation. God is the one who knows our complex human bodies because he made them. The Holy Spirit came into Christ’s dead body in the tomb and raised him from the dead. The Holy Spirit is able to do that, and he is able to touch our bodies in the place of our sickness still today.”

After the service, the congregation stayed on either to pray privately – as individuals – with the Healing Ministry team, or to enjoy refreshments provided by members of Drumholm Parish.

Rev Lyons said he and his colleagues on the Ministry of Healing team looked forward to supporting clergy and congregations right across the diocese in future. He invited rural deans to get in touch if they wanted the team to come and support healing services in their local communities.

We should talk more often about God’s beauty, says Archbishop of Armagh

The Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, Most Rev John McDowell, has paid tribute to Castlerock parishioners – past and present – for first of all building and subsequently maintaining their parish church, which has been belatedly celebrating its 150th anniversary, this weekend.

The Archbishop preached the sermon during a Service of Morning Prayer, on the third and final day of the ‘Lord, for the Years’ Flower Festival, which has attracted hundreds of visitors to Christ Church Castlerock over this weekend.

More than 2,000 flowers were used by floral designers Alan Beatty and James Burnside to transform the church’s interior. The festival was project managed by Castlerock parishioner Evelyn Conn, with all proceeds going towards church funds.

Castlerock Rector, Rev Chris MacBruithin, told the congregation, this morning, that the Covid pandemic had forced the parish to postpone its celebrations. Thanking the Archbishop for his visit, Rev MacBruithin said the Primate’s presence was an indication of the significance of the anniversary.

In his sermon, Archbishop McDowell reflected on the first reading – from Genesis 28: 10-17 – which recounts Jacob’s dream at Bethel. The Archbishop thanked the congregation for maintaining a church that was obviously so very close to their hearts. “We discovered this during Covid,” he said, “when we had to close them, that buildings are very close to people’s hearts, that they’re a place where we encounter the holiness of God, a bit like old Jacob, lying on a stone near Beersheba, not realising it until afterwards that surely this place is the gate of Heaven, surely this place is the house of God.”

The Archbishop said people often talked about God’s mercy and love and glory, but not half often enough about God’s beauty. “Those people who designed this church and those churches of the 1830s and beyond had one word in their mind more than any other – more even than beauty – and that was glory: churches were meant to reflect the glory of God, so that the glory of God might be in the land; and that’s what you and I are here for, so that the glory of God can be seen in Castlerock. That is the purpose of a church – to reflect the glory of God and the face of Jesus Christ in the place where they are. And that glory isn’t cold or aloof; that glory isn’t superior; that glory has love in it; therefore, it has a redemptive power which all that cold, stand-offish holiness never has or had.”

Archbishop McDowell said his hope and prayer on the 150th anniversary of Christ Church was that for the remainder of its existence, its parishioners would continue to make a difference to one another and also to the community in which they were set, and that they would reflect the glory of God and the face of Jesus Christ.”

Bishop Andrew opens ‘Lord, for the Years’ Flower Festival

Busloads of people made their way to the north coast on Friday 27th May for the opening day of the ‘Lord, for the Years’ Flower Festival in Christ Church Castlerock. The visitors travelled from far and wide to see a floral display that celebrates what the Rector, Rev Chris MacBruithin, called a “belated 150th anniversary”. The festival had originally been conceived three years ago, but plans had to be put on hold because of the Covid pandemic.

The ‘Lord, for the Years’ Flower Festival was Christ Church’s first such festival in quarter of a century. The church was transformed for the occasion by the festival’s artistic director, the renowned floral artist and national demonstrator, Alan Beatty, who was assisted by James Burnside. The festival was project managed by Castlerock parishioner Evelyn Conn. All proceeds are going towards church funds. Among the first there to see the flowers were Hazel and Archie Thompson, who are members of the same Mid-Ulster Flower Club that the artistic directors belong to.

In his sermon, at the opening Service, the Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev Andrew Forster confided that he had had an unpleasant close encounter with a display of lilies at a different flower festival a number of years ago. “Lilies and me don’t agree,” the Bishop said. “I could feel my nose beginning to tingle a bit. Then I started to sneeze, and I carried on. And then my eyes began to water and by about minute four or five I was a blubbering mess. I then tried to move over to the lectern to continue the sermon, but we just had to give up. Now, in about four or five minutes” – the Bishop said, to peals of laughter – “you will maybe be hoping that I’ll have to give up again, but I’m feeling very safe at the moment.”

Bishop Andrew said the floral displays in Christ Church were stunningly beautiful. “In some ways, in the world that we live in – that seems to revolve around bad news and difficult news and sad news – to appreciate again the beauty of creation can ground us in the love of God and in the good purposes of God. And we have the joy and the privilege of living in a corner of God’s creation that so many people come to see because of its beauty, because of its landscape, because of what we see around us.“

Unfortunately,” the Bishop said, “whenever we’re caught up in this downward spiral of news, our eyes can be blinded to the beauty around us, and an event like this helps us to open our eyes again to beauty, to open our eyes again to the intricacy of the creation of almighty God, because what you see today is God as the artist – the artist of the beauty in the world around us. And doesn’t it say so much about the art of our God, doesn’t it say so much about the ingenuity and creativity of our God that every flower in this building is different; that every colour is different; that every leaf is different; and that every person here is different; and yet we are made in the image of God?”

Bishop Andrew talked to the congregation about the evocative power of scent: the bouquet of flowers, the smell of coffee, the scent of baked bread, and the fragrance of perfume, could awaken in us powerful memories. “In 2 Corinthians, St Paul says of you and me that we are to be ‘the aroma of Christ’, so that in our lives, in our witness, in the people that we are, there’d be that scent of the beauty of Jesus, and in the way we live our lives, the aroma of Christ would be evident. Let’s be those people who take our part in God’s creation, who celebrate beauty and creativity, who build for new generations, and that in this village and far beyond people will recognise in us the aroma of Christ himself.”

Celebrating ordinary people who do extraordinary things

The Bishop of Derry and Raphoe has paid tribute to parishioners of Glendermott – past and present – who, by sharing their talents and gifts, have helped build the kingdom of God in their parish. 

Bishop Andrew Forster was speaking during a Service, on Tuesday evening, in Babington Hall, opposite Glendermott Parish Church, during which the hall was re-dedicated following an extensive renovation, and memorial gifts bestowed by families of people who had worshipped in Glendermott or socialised in the hall, were also dedicated.

The Rector, Rev Canon Robert Boyd, led the service of worship. He was assisted by the Curate of Glendermott and Newbuildings, Rev Iain McAleavey, and by Bishop Andrew, who preached the sermon.

Canon Boyd outlined a brief history of Babington Hall, which was built in 1893 in memory of the first Rector of the parish, Canon David Babington, and his wife. Canon Babington came as Curate, on St Patrick’s Day 1848, to what he described as “a dingy and dilapidated little church”. At the time it had a congregation of 38. By the time of his death, the church was regularly filled to capacity – with more than 500 attending – and the newly-built sister church of All Saints Clooney was also filled.

Canon Babington had described his own preaching as “good, rough, strong, country preaching” and over the years, Canon Boyd said, his predecessor turned the parish around. Canon Babington dedicated his life to the poor and needy, and, after his death, his grateful parishioners built the parish hall in thanksgiving for Mr Babington’s 41 years of work in Glendermott.

In his sermon, Bishop Andrew said he was happy to be in Glendermott to celebrate the “generosity of the people of God”. He thanked them for their kindness and for being, what he called, Kingdom-builders in the building of God’s Church.

The reading at the service came from Nehemiah, Chapter 3, which recounts the repair and rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls and the rebuilding of its gates. Bishop Andrew said the reading helped us see our part in the building of God’s Kingdom. Nehemiah had been heartbroken, Bishop Andrew said, that what had once been a structure that stood to the glory of God was in ruins. Nehemiah got permission from a King to return to his homeland and rebuild the walls. When he got there, he was overcome by the scale of the task that lay in front of him.

“Sometimes for us,” Bishop Andrew said, “in the world that we live in, the role and the task of the Church in a secular society almost seems too much, almost seems too difficult, now, whenever faith is denigrated, whenever God’s word is ignored, and the place of the Church put way down the pecking order. Sometimes the role of building the Kingdom of God, today, seems too much for us.

“It was too much for Nehemiah, but God led him through difficult times – through times of political turmoil, led him through times of famine, and led him through times even of pandemic – to do great things for his saviour. And for you and me, I think the story of Nehemiah, and the story of this parish, should encourage us, as the people today, never to underestimate what God can do through those who are committed to his plan and path for their lives.”

Bishop Andrew noted that the names of those who had helped Nehemiah to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls were never mentioned again in the Bible. “They were never heard of again. You know why? Because they were normal, ordinary people called to do great things for God…Such great things that these names – that are never mentioned again in Scripture – all these years later, we read them out tonight in the Babington Hall in Glendermott Parish and celebrate ordinary people who did extraordinary things for God. Tonight, what I celebrate, are the ordinary people of Glendermott Parish who are prepared to do extraordinary things for God.”

The music for Tuesday evening’s service was provided by Mrs May Boyd, on the piano. Among those in the congregation were Rev Canon Derek Creighton, who had been Rector of Glendermott for 16 years until his retirement six years ago. After the service, the families who donated gifts joined clergy and other parishioners for supper in the adjoining Canon Kelly Hall.  

Double celebration in Macosquin

The parishioners of Camus-Juxta-Bann enjoyed a memorable day, last weekend, at the Macosquin 400 Jubilee Fete. The festivities were a double celebration of 400 years of St. Mary’s Church and the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.

The festivities took place in the rectory garden, beside St Mary’s Church. Many thanks to all those who helped organise the fête and to the hundreds of people who came along, including the Lord Lieutenant for County Londonderry, Mrs Alison Millar.