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Coronation ‘Celebration Service’ at St Columb’s Cathedral

Church leaders from the four main Christian denominations in the North West joined the Dean of Derry, Very Rev Raymond Stewart, in St Columb’s Cathedral, this evening, for a Service of Celebration for the Coronation of Their Majesties King Charles III and Queen Camilla. The distinguished guests present included His Majesty’s Lord-Lieutenant for the County Borough of Londonderry, Mr Ian Crowe MBE DL, and the Deputy Mayor of Derry City and Strabane, Cllr Angela Dobbins.

The sermon was preached by the Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev Andrew Forster who, only four days earlier, had been in Westminster Abbey for the Coronation Service. Bishop Andrew told the congregation that the Cathedral they were sitting in had been built almost 400 years earlier, during the reign of the first King Charles. The reign of King Charles III was, he said, “light years away” from the 17th century religious conflicts on this island.

“Now, in this Cathedral, built in the reign of Charles I, we come to celebrate and to pray for the reign of Charles III. And, as he begins his reign, these are certainly less violent times on these islands but, nevertheless, they’re times of great challenge and times of division.”

Bishop Andrew specified a number of these: the cost of living crisis, concern for our future, and challenges with how government acted and behaved. And he said that division seemed to be the hallmark of modern day society.

“On the eve of her own Coronation, the Late Queen Elizabeth said this: ‘Coronations are a declaration of our hope for the future.’ Saturday’s Service, in all its grandeur and pomp and majesty and splendour, I think shone a light of hope into days of challenge and days of division. It shone that light of hope in great clarity through some of the themes that were highlighted during the Service.”

The heart of last Saturday’s Coronation Service, Bishop Andrew said, was the call to the monarch – and, indeed, to every one of us – to be people of service, just as Jesus had been. King Charles had shown his devotion to service over many, many years. “That willingness of the King to lend Royal support and presence has lifted up and blessed many. He tells us that he has come not to be served, but to serve. Our greatest dignity, and even our greatest majesty, is found in service because it is in service that you and I are most Christ-like. As we seek to serve, as we seek to help out, as we seek to put ourselves in the place of others and lift them up and support them we are at our most Christ-like. When we are prepared to serve, we put aside pride and self-interest, and we look to the needs of others, [to] the greater good of society and the world around us. Saturday’s Service was a reminder of that, of the dignity of service, of the majesty of service, and a challenge not only to the King but to each one of us in a world of challenge and division.”

The light of hope in the Service also shone brightly, Bishop Andrew suggested, because it was a celebration of the diversity of our nation.”We saw young and old, the cultural diversity of these islands celebrated and on display. It celebrated the diversity that is actually a God-given gift. Whenever we open scripture, we find diversity everywhere. We find it in the very early days of the Church, whenever the Church was born on the day of Pentecost, we hear about Parthians and Medes, Elamites, residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya beyond, in Cyrene, and visitors from Rome. It was the known world and yet it talks of difference, it talks of diversity and it celebrates diversity in the life of God. And in the very heart of God, we see diversity yet unity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit – three persons, yet one God. And we’re told that in Christ there’s no Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female. We could add to it today that in Christ there’s no Protestant or Catholic. Diversity and the celebration of diversity shone a beautiful light of hope in that Service.”

Bishop Andrew said the city of Derry-Londonderry was at its best when we celebrated or even cherished our diversity, when we valued and honoured the place of each other’s culture within our city. When we didn’t do that, we were all diminished. “My hope is for a city where each of us, each of our cultures, each of our traditions are valued and cherished by all of us, as we share this place that we love so much. We are at our best when we are building relations rather than tearing them down. We are at our best when we pull people towards us rather than push them away.”

The third sign of hope from Saturday’s Coronation Service was the fact that it placed worship and reverence for Almighty God at the heart of all that happened. “In our increasingly secular world, where faith is often sidelined and often – let’s be frank – looked down upon, I hope the Coronation showed us the colour, the texture, the grounding, the hope, the equipping, the blessing that faith alone brings to life, that will simply not be found in the desert of antipathy and scepticism. That faith in Christ can make all the difference. That worship of Christ brought that sense of awesomeness to what we witnessed on Saturday. And that faith in Christ can make all the difference to you and to me.”

This evening’s Service in St Columb’s Cathedral was led by the Dean of Derry, Very Rev Raymond Stewart, assisted by the Cathedral’s Pastoral Assistant, Rev Canon John Merrick. The readings were delivered by the Bishop of Derry, Most Rev Dr Donal McKeown; the Moderator of Derry & Donegal Presbytery, Rev Gordon McCracken; and the Superintendent of the Northwest District of the Methodist Church, Rev Dr Stephen Skuce.

The Service was sung by The Cathedral Choir, The Cathedral Chamber Choir and The Cathedral Girls’ Choir, directed and accompanied by the Organist and Master of the Choristers, Dr Derek Collins, and the Assistant Organist Nicky Morton.

Coronation Vigil Service at St Columb’s Cathedral

A Vigil of Prayer was held in St Columb’s Cathedral, Londonderry on Friday evening – on the Eve of the Coronation of King Charles III. The Service was led by the Dean of Derry, Very Rev’d Raymond Stewart, who was assisted by the Pastoral Assistant at the Cathedral, Rev’d Canon John Merrick.

The Service was sung by the Gentlemen of the Cathedral Choir, accompanied by the Organist and Master of the Choristers, Dr Derek Collins.

In his reflection, Dean Stewart harked back almost 3,000 years to Solomon, who – at the age of 20 – succeeded his father, David, as King of Israel. Fabulously wealthy, and renowned for his great building skills, Solomon’s 40-year reign was known as the Golden Age.

“One night Solomon had a dream,” the Dean said, “and in this dream God spoke to him. God said, ‘Ask what I should give you.’

Solomon could have asked for anything. He could have asked for a long life, for more riches, for success ov er his enemies. But he didn’t. His response to God was this: ‘Give your servant an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil.

“Scripture tells us that God was impressed that Solomon had asked for wisdom and he said, ‘I will give you a wise and discerning mind. No one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you. I give you also what you have not asked – both riches and honour all your life. No other king shall compare with you. If you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your life.’

“On tomorrow morning, almost 3,000 years after the birth of Solomon, Charles Philip Arthur George will be crowned King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and Head of the Commonwealth, and his wife Camilla will officially become Queen. The Coronation ceremony – the 40th to have been held at Westminster Abbey – will follow a form that has remained largely unchanged since 1066.

“This evening,” Dean Stewart said, “as we and many other people throughout the nation and Commonwealth meet to pray for King Charles III and for Camilla, the Queen Consort, I wonder what thoughts will be going through his mind? I wonder particularly if he will be re-reading and reflecting on the Biblical account of Solomon’s dream? If God was to speak this evening to our King, as he spoke to Solomon thousands of years ago, and say, ‘Ask what I shall give you,’ I wonder what his response would be?

“I suggest that he might not need to ask for more palaces and houses; he has them in abundance. I suggest that he might not need to ask for more riches. It is said that he is one of the wealthiest men on this earth. According to The Guardian, his personal wealth is estimated to be £1.8bn.

“So, I suggest that like King Solomon, his response should be, ‘Give your servant an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil.’ I suggest that any prayer that King Charles might make at this time should include a request for the gifts of wisdom and insight.

“For the past number of months, Charles has been the King. He became King on the 8th of September 2022 following the death of his mother, Queen Elizabeth II. While he has been fulfilling many engagements as Head of State, the full significance of his role and office may not have yet sunk in, and it will only be in the solemnity of tomorrow’s ceremony that he might venture to ask himself, ‘What have I done?’

“This is a role and office that from an early age he knew would one day be his. He has been heir apparent to the throne since he was three years old. For the past 71 years, he has been preparing himself for this great occasion – an occasion that, I suspect, will be tinged with some sadness as he recalls his dear mother. It was from her that he learned all that he needed to know about being King. She was his role model. In her long life he saw Christian faith in action; he witnessed her popularity and saw how people from all over the world and from all of the countries of the Commonwealth, loved and respected her.

“As he reflects on her long life and reign as Queen, he will hopefully be seeking to follow in her footsteps and, at the same time, placing his own unique stamp on the monarchy.

“When he was the Prince of Wales, King Charles had many interests and was involved in many projects. He was known to speak his kind and to comment on things that he liked and disliked. As King and Head of State, he will have to keep his views and opinions to himself. He may, however, share his views and experiences with the Prime Minister when they meet each week, and we can look forward to his Christmas message, shared with the nation and Commonwealth on Christmas Day.

“In public, the wisdom that has been gained over seven decades will be silent but in private I’m certain that individuals and groups will continue to benefit from his wide range of interests. The charities that he founded in the past will continue, in one way or another, to receive his support, and the environment – about which he is so passionate – will not be forgotten either.

“During the Coronation Service, King Charles will take an oath promising to rule according to law, to exercise justice with mercy, and to maintain the Church of England. One of the titles that he holds is Defender of the Faith and Supreme Governor of the Church of England. As Supreme Governor of the Church of England, King Charles plays a part in its life and governance. Although his authority over the Church of England is largely ceremonial and is mostly observed in a symbolic capacity, the position is still relevant to the Church. He formally appoints archbishops, bishops and deans of cathedrals on the advice of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

“The Christian faith was not only important but was the bedrock upon which Queen Elizabeth II lived her life. We trust that King Charles will also find spiritual insight in the Christian faith and in his personal relationship with God and His son, Jesus Christ.

“It is well known that King Charles also has a love and respect for people of other world religions and those of none. While living in accord with Christian teachings and principles, his hand will continue to be extended in friendship and solidarity to all people who are made in the image and likeness of God.

“This evening, as we meet in this part of the realm, we pray sincerely for King Charles III and for Camilla the Queen Consort that God would bless them and that they in turn would be a blessing to others as they serve their God and people for many years to come.”

The Coronation of Their Majesties King Charles III and Queen Camilla will be shown on the big screen in Saint Columb’s Cathedral on Saturday 6th May, beginning at 10.00 a.m. Light refreshments will be served.

Then, on Wednesday 10th May, the Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Right Reverend Andrew Forster, will preach at a Special Commemorative Service for the Coronation which will be held in Saint Columb’s Cathedral, beginning at 7.30 p.m.

Coronation celebrations begin at Cathedral Youth Club

The Coronation weekend celebrations got under way in Londonderry’s Fountain area, on Friday afternoon, with a street party for young and old, organised by the Cathedral Youth Club.

Young people – many of them in royal fancy dress – paraded from the youth centre to the Interface, where a tree was planted to mark the occasion of King Charles III’s Coronation on Saturday. The Deputy Mayor, Cllr. Angela Dobbins, the Dean of Derry, Very Rev. Raymond Stewart, the Archdeacon of Derry, Ven. Robert Miller, and the youth club’s manager, Jeanette Warke MBE, took part in the brief ceremony.

Outdoor fun and activities were laid on, with Kidz Farm, a pony and trap, a barbecue and, of course, ice cream and a slushie van to keep everyone cool.

Two of the youngsters were crowned King and Queen of the festivities and were presented with medals by the Deputy Mayor.

This evening, The Parish of Templemore will hold an eve of Coronation ‘Vigil of Prayer’ in the Cathedral, beginning at 7.30pm.

From Limpopo to Donegal: new Rector instituted in Inver

The new Rector of the Grouped Parishes of Inver, Mountcharles, Killaghtee and Killybegs in south Donegal was instituted on Wednesday evening at a service in St John’s Church, in Inver, during which the preacher, the Archdeacon of Raphoe, Ven. David Huss, urged the new incumbent to let hers be a ministry of peace in the parishes.

Rev Susan Elliott was instituted by the Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev Andrew Forster, who welcomed the new incumbent and her husband Don to the service, along with clergy from other denominations locally and children from Inver and Killaghtee National Schools, who sang at the event.

Bishop Andrew extended a particular welcome to local parishioner Willie Mackey, whose wife, Jennifer passed away just over a week ago. “Jennifer would have been in the thick of all this,” the Bishop said. “Her loss is felt so much by her dear family and by all of us as the family of God in this diocese.”

Rev Elliott’s husband, Don, sat beside her during the early part of the service, and clergy and readers from throughout the Diocese of Raphoe travelled to Inver to take part in the Institution.

In his sermon, the Archdeacon said it was an honour to preach the word of God on this great occasion, to welcome Susan and Don to “this wonderful part of the world”, and to introduce cleric to congregation and vice versa.

The Institution of a new Rector was a moment of supreme importance in the life of a parish and the life of a priest, Archdeacon Huss said, a time full of hope and expectation, a turning point, a new beginning – full of possibility and tinged with uncertainty.

“The scriptures tonight were suggested by Susan,” he said, “and these readings bear particular relevance to your journey to this point: growing up in Durban, the descendant of Lutheran missionary ancestors; training as a teacher and then working in interior design; sensing a call to ministry through your local Anglican church; Ordination in 2018 and service in St David’s Church in the province of Limpopo; involvement in training and ministry development in the diocese; and then, in 2022, a new call – to Ireland, a different county and continent but also the land of your husband Don’s ancestry.

“From a place where it rains a lot and gets very warm to a place where it rains a lot and stays pretty cold. From a land of warm welcomes, of faithful rural people in small but vibrant congregations, to the same. Tonight, we pray for St David’s, as they have said goodbye to a pastor while Inver, Mountcharles, Killaghtee and Killybegs have gained one.

“I’m sure over the weeks and months to come, as Susan gets to know the flock – which takes time – she will unfold more of the calling to come here and the meaning of these and other scriptures on that journey.”

The preacher highlighted one verse in one reading, Colossians 3:15, ‘Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.’

“There are so many wonderful things in all of these passages,” he said, ”but try as I might I couldn’t get beyond this verse: ‘Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.’

“We are at a challenging moment for the churches in Ireland. Seldom, if ever, have Christians had so much work to do just to persuade people of the relevance of what we are about. Christianity, which dominated every aspect of life on this island for 1,500 years, is in decline if not in retreat. Many are saying: ‘What does it have to offer?’

“Well, one thing we have is peace. What a shortage there is of peace in our world. I don’t just mean the conflicts in Sudan and Ukraine and countless other places; but in communities and workplaces, in homes and in hearts, there is little peace. And if there is one thing Christians know about – or should know about – it’s peace. ‘Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.’

“This little verse, these nine words, are truly a message for God’s people and their pastors in these times. ‘Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.’”

What is this peace, Archdeacon Huss asked? First of all, he said, it was peace with God. “That’s the fundamental peace, without which there is nothing. A doctor knows well that they have to tackle the root cause of an illness and not just the symptoms. Christians know that the root of it all is finding peace with God through faith in Jesus Christ.”

Secondly, he suggested, there was inner peace: peace with God leads to peace with self. “What a witness it is to a watching world when Christians are calm and controlled in crazy circumstances. When we don’t flap or snap but pray and thank and trust.

“This inner peace has to be nurtured. If there was any advice I was to give to Susan, it would be to nurture your inner life of devotion to Jesus Christ. Soon you will be drawn into a whirlpool of vestries and boards of management, hospital visits and school assemblies, weddings and funerals, and it will be wonderful and hectic. Never neglect that inward life of prayer. Let ‘the peace of Christ rule in your heart’.”

“Finally,” Archdeacon Huss said, “this leads to peace with others. ‘Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts since as members of one body you were called to peace…’

“Our Christian community, our parish family, is to be marked by peace. That peace is nurtured through worship. ‘Let the word of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another and sing psalms and give thanks…’

“One great place where God grows true peace is in corporate worship. Failure to attend to worship will lead to failure of peace. Joyfully and thankfully joining together in song and scripture will grow that peace of Christ, which will ripple outwards into the world.

“Susan, let your ministry be a ministry of peace. ‘Let the peace of Christ rule’ in this place. Nurture that peace with God, with self and with others through the teaching of the scriptures and through caring for the flock.

“As the old bishop who ordained me summed up the task: love the people and give them good teaching.”

Bishop Andrew was assisted during the Service by the Diocesan Registrar, Rev Canon David Crooks, the Rector of the Stranorlar Group, Rev Adam Pullen and wardens from all four grouped parishes.

Afterwards, the congregation made their way to Doorin Hall for speeches and presentations to clergy and readers who had assisted during the vacancy following the departure of Rev Lindsey Farrell.

The new incumbent thanked the parishioners for the warmth of their welcome for her and her husband, Don. “We feel so blessed. And in terms of being here, this is beyond our wildest dreams. We can’t believe the Irish welcome. Everybody talks about the cold weather, but the Irish welcome is so warm. It’s hotter than the hottest South African day.”

There was some gentle ribbing of the couple – Don in particular – during the speeches of welcome. Local Methodist minister, Rev John Montgomery, had one eye on the Rugby World Cup later this year, telling the couple that one rule of residency here was that they had to pray for Johnny Sexton’s health and wellbeing in the run-up to the tournament.

Introducing Bishop Andrew, Archdeacon Huss told those present that the Bishop would be in London next Saturday for the Coronation of King Charles III, “so, I’m thinking, Bishop, that’s going to be the second most exciting thing that you will do this week – but it won’t eclipse being here.”

Bishop Andrew told the Elliotts that the people of the Inver Group would be watching and praying for them. “But the big test, Don, is the Rugby World Cup. We don’t want any Springbok supporters in this parish, and we’ll be checking up on that and we might have to arrange flights back to South Africa.”

Bishop Andrew to attend Coronation Service

The Bishop of Derry and Raphoe will be among clergy in Westminster Abbey this coming weekend for the Coronation of His Majesty The King and Her Majesty The Queen Consort. The Service, on Saturday 6th May, 2023 will be conducted by the Archbishop of Canterbury. As previously announced, it will reflect King Charles III’s role today and look towards the future, while being rooted in longstanding traditions and pageantry.

The Coronation Service will take place on the morning of Saturday, 6th May 2023 and will be conducted by the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Coronation is a solemn religious service, as well as an occasion for celebration and pageantry.

Bishop Andrew, who will be there in his role as President of the Irish Council of Churches, said he was looking forward to being part of such an historic occasion. “It will be an immense honour to represent the Irish Council of Churches at the Coronation of Their Majesties The King and The Queen Consort. The sense of history will be writ large during the Service and throughout the day. On a personal level, it is a great privilege to have been invited to attend the Coronation and be part of such an historic occasion. I pray God’s richest blessing on the Royal couple on their Coronation day and, indeed, throughout their reign.”

Their Majesties The King and The Queen Consort will arrive at Westminster Abbey in procession from Buckingham Palace, known as ‘The King’s Procession’. Afterwards, they will return to Buckingham Palace in a larger ceremonial procession, known as ‘The Coronation Procession’, on which they will be joined by other Members of the Royal Family.

At Buckingham Palace, The King and The Queen Consort, accompanied by Members of the Royal Family, will appear on the balcony to conclude the day’s ceremonial events.

Across the Coronation Weekend, there will be opportunities for people to come together in celebration of the historic occasion. On Sunday, 7th May 2023, a special Coronation Concert will be staged and broadcast live at Windsor Castle by the BBC and BBC Studios.

(Note: the photo, below, of The King and The Queen Consort in the Blue Drawing Room at Buckingham Palace was taken by Hugo Burnand and shared by the Royal Family.)

New mental health handbook available online

Bishop Andrew has commended a new online resource which will help clergy to ‘signpost’ parishioners experiencing mental health needs to groups and organisations which can help them get treatment and support.

The Mental Health Handbook has been compiled by Rev Claire Henderson, who has only recently finished training as a mental health coach. It includes an extensive list of organisations in both dioceses – and in both jurisdictions – which provide help in addressing issues such as addiction, self-harm and suicidal thoughts, and in tackling problems such as depression, anxiety, loneliness and loss. The handbook also includes ‘wellness tips’ which offer advice on each of the problems featured. 

Rev Henderson says the handbook was produced in response to a need identified by clergy. “Lots of clergy have been asking for it, so it’s very much needed,” she says. “I started working on it last summer. It’s a resource for clergy to enable them to help their parishioners with their mental health. If somebody says they’ve got a problem with addiction, or they’re depressed, or maybe they’re struggling because they can’t afford to put food on the table, there are all those resources in the book that clergy can point them to. ‘My parish is in Derry. Let’s look down that list and see what support is available for them here.’” 

The handbook has one chapter which deals specifically with young people’s mental health. “We’re seeing such high rates of suicide among young people, nowadays, and I think it’s important for young people to be supported with their mental health and for adults to know that there is tailored support out there for young people – that it’s not all adult-based.

“There’s so much pressure on young people since Covid. Young people’s lives were curtailed for about two years, so they missed that social interaction, they have more anxiety with going to school, going out, the pressure to do well.

“People are scared to have conversations about mental health and don’t know how to approach it in a way that allows the young person to open up. I did a session in Glendermott recently where we had a really interesting discussion about how kids were bottling things up and adults didn’t even know how to start the conversation. I was able to make suggestions about how to do that – it mightn’t even be a conversation, it could be a text message, a voice note – anything that opens conversations about mental health is beneficial.”

Rev Henderson says she is alarmed at the lengthening waiting lists for accessing support, something she herself experienced after being referred for therapy. She shared her personal perspective over five weeks of workshops in the Glendermott parish, where people “could see the vulnerability of the trainer but at the same time that created a sense of openness and opened up conversations”.

Claire managed to secure funding under the Church of Ireland’s Mind Matters mental health initiative for two projects in her own parish, Derg and Termonamongan, but would like to see something being done at a Diocesan level. “I think there should be somebody assigned to mental health and to promoting how to manage mental health, how to support people with their mental health – even going out and running courses. From a parish level, we’re noticing an awful lot of hurting, broken people but there’s only so much that you can do at parish level, whereas, if you’re ‘hitting’ something at diocesan level you’re ‘hitting’ it harder.”

Bishop Andrew has thanked Claire for compiling such an extensive resource “on her own initiative”.  In a foreword to the handbook, he encouraged clergy to use it to find help for their parishioners and even for themselves. “The pandemic has brought to our attention the strain that can so easily affect everyone’s mental health. We now realise that caring for our own mental wellbeing is every bit as important as caring for our physical wellbeing.”

The Bishop wrote that we were blessed in the north-west to have so many organisations there to help us in life’s more difficult days. “It is my prayer that all of us would know God’s help found through His spirit and through the goodness of His people.”  

Walled City Passion – a story for our time

By Fiona Garrett

The centre of Derry-Londonderry came alive during Holy Week with mesmerising performances of Walled City Passion, a modern reimagining of the Easter story. Now in its second year, this immersive street theatre production – masterfully directed and written by Jonathan Burgess – captivated audiences with its exceptional cast and a harmonious blend of ancient and modern storytelling techniques.

This year, the creative team behind the Passion also introduced a fringe festival which explored themes related to conflict resolution, peacebuilding and community relations. 

During twice-daily performances of the drama, on the Thursday, Friday and Saturday of Holy Week, Stephen Bradley exuded serenity and depth in his breath-taking portrayal of Jesus, while Charlie Bonner’s ‘devilishly ordinary’ devil provided a relatable counterpoint. The impressive supporting cast included local star Dylan Reid as a cunning Judas and Andy Porter as Caiaphas. Margaret Hannon’s moving portrayal of the crippled woman who received the gift of walking from Jesus left some audience members in tears. Local performing arts students played a crucial role as extras, adding depth and authenticity to the performance.

The drama’s visual elements were equally impressive, notably Helen Quigley’s exceptional costume design and the use of striking props such as a crown of thorns and realistic stigmata makeup effects.

Walled City Passion is a stunning and unforgettable theatrical experience and, as the community embraces the drama, it is destined to become an eagerly anticipated annual event.

The ‘Passion + Fringe Festival’ offered a profoundly moving and thought-provoking experience for all who attended. Its first event, in St Augustine’s Church, delved into themes of peacebuilding, dialogue and the power of mediation in conflict resolution, with heartfelt contributions from Michael Doherty MBE and Brian Dougherty MBE. The former shared a chilling account of witnessing violence during the Bloody Sunday march, drawing connections to Jesus’s arrest and his message of non-violence. Brian Dougherty touched on the “Orwellian attitude” to politics in the region and the psychological impact of the siege mentality still present in some Londonderry communities. Smart leadership, hope, and building social capital were identified as core themes for the event.

The second session, held at the First Presbyterian Church, featured Bishop Andrew Forster, Rev Canon Judi McGaffin and writer Tony Macaulay. Their reflections on the Passion Play highlighted its emotional impact and the lessons it offered about fear, disappointment and the human capacity for redemption.

At the fringe festival’s third session, in Áras Cholmcille – St Columba Heritage Centre, a panel of distinguished trauma therapy professionals explored the human experience, focusing on trauma and healing. Prof. Derek Farrell MBE, Prof. Paul Miller, and university lecturer Lorraine Knibbs explored the importance of addressing trauma at both individual and societal levels, as well as the role of the Walled City Passion in facilitating conversations around this crucial topic.

Their discussion centred on the crucifixion scene from the passion play. The panellists emphasised the importance of not sanitising the brutality of trauma, and the need for open dialogue, professional support and community engagement in overcoming the lasting impacts of trauma.

The fringe festival’s concluding session, the Walled City Passion Symposium, provided an opportunity for attendees to meet and converse with writer/director Jonathan Burgess and Archdeacon Miller, who first conceived of Walled City Passion. 

Jonathan explained that what drove him as a producer was shining new light through old windows. “I like taking stories which people have expectations about and then burning them about and making them into something else.”

Archdeacon Miller explained that he had previously seen a Passion play in Manchester which had been inspired by the Manchester music scene. It inspired him to do something “like it but different”. He said the appeal of playing the new drama out on the famous city walls came from the fact that years ago the walls were regarded as a ‘no-go area’.

The ‘Passion + Fringe Festival’ was a truly enriching and inspiring experience for all who attended. The event offered a unique opportunity for participants to engage in meaningful conversations on topics such as peacebuilding, trauma, and the power of artistic expression in promoting healing and understanding.The event served as a potent reminder of the importance of hope, leadership and the power of human connection in overcoming conflict and building a more compassionate society.

Archbishop shares Rwanda’s journey from genocide to peace

Clergy from throughout the Diocese of Derry and Raphoe heard a graphic account of one of the bloodiest genocides in history, today, from the Archbishop of Rwanda, Most Rev’d Dr Laurent Mbanda. The Archbishop – who is in Northern Ireland with Tearfund and is being hosted by the Diocese of Down and Dromore – visited Londonderry to share with clergy about the journey of reconciliation which Dr Banda said had now made Rwanda the fastest growing economy in Africa.

Dr Mbanda was accompanied by his wife, Chantal, and Tearfund’s Country Director for Rwanda, Rev’d Emmanuel Murangira. Their itinerary included a question-and-answer session between the Archbishop and Bishop Andrew Forster.  

The Rwandan church leader said that he had lost four members of his extended family during the 1994 massacres which claimed the lives of around 800,000 people over a 100-day period. He also revealed that he, himself, as “one of the hunted ones” had been on a death list. “It was a time when you would see bodies everywhere,” the Archbishop said. “You had a number of people who said, ‘These are your people. You are not grieving.’ Well, there was no time to grieve. It was almost like you were numb…That was a very difficult time – to see death, to look death in the face…I was one of the people that was being hunted.”

Archbishop Mbanda talked about the Churches’ role in the Rwandan peace process which has transformed the country in the three decades since the genocide. His wife, Chantal, spoke to clergy about the huge impact and powerful influence of Mothers’ Union in Rwanda – and of the Fathers’ Union there. And Rev’d Murangira talked about the impact of the East African Revival upon his own family and the wider region.    

Bishop Andrew Forster said he was honoured to welcome the Rwandan visitors to the Diocese, describing them as brothers and a sister in Christ. He led the clergy in prayers for the Mbandas, for Rev’d Murangira and for their companions from Tearfund, Chris Thompson and David McAllister MBE.

Bishop Andrew thanked his guests for the richness of fellowship which they had shared in the Diocesan Centre before. “Father,” Bishop Andrew said, “we are touched and deeply moved by how dreadful and awful conflict has become a beautiful transformation through reconciliation. We are touched by how those who were perpetrators of violence and victims of violence have been able to find a way forward. We are touched to hear of [how] a country that just 30 years ago was a byword for pain and division and genocide, has become a place of hope and a place of energy in the heart of Africa. We pray for your blessing on the nation of Rwanda and we pray for your protection of that nation.”

The Africans’ visit was the highlight of a Continuing Ministerial Development Day for diocesan clergy. The day had begun with a Service of Holy Communion in St Columb’s Cathedral, which had been led by the Dean of Derry, Very Rev’d Raymond Stewart, assisted by Bishop Andrew and by Rev’d Canon John Merrick. The CMD day ended with Bishop Andrew presenting a Celtic cross to Archbishop Mbanda, to remind him of his time in Derry and Raphoe, and also a copy of the Common Prayer Book, signed by all the clergy present.

Walled City Passion – tickets on sale!

Tickets for the Walled City Passion have gone on sale at the Millennium Forum Box Office (on 02871 264455) and can also be booked on the theatre’s website at www.millenniumforum.co.uk

The production, which is becoming an annual event in the city’s calendar, looks at the story and message of Christ’s ministry around the final few days of his life. Performances will be staged twice daily over Easter, on Thursday 6th, Friday 7th and Saturday 8th April.

The production will be mounted as a promenade performance around the historic city walls, commencing at St Columb’s Cathedral and concluding at the Guildhall, using the city’s unique heritage as a backdrop to the most famous story ever told.

Writer, Jonathan Burgess, says this year’s production will be different from the Walled City Passion of last year. “Last year, we went ‘all out’ after coming back from Covid and the project – which had always been envisaged as a live performance on the walls – became something entirely different when other media became involved. This year, we’re making the story a little more traditional than last year and taking it back to the vision of a live promenade production around the city-centre.”

Archdeacon Robert Miller, who is one of the show’s producers, says: “The play is at the heart of the project which we intend to bring back to the walls every year. We want to create a signature event that people will travel to see. The project, isn’t only concerned with the show, though; there are other fringe events, talks and theatre workshops which unpack the message of the Passion story and examine its relevance in today’s world.”

Performances will be staged at 12.30pm and 3.30pm on Thursday 6th, Friday 7th and Saturday 8th April, commencing at the Church of Ireland Diocesan Office.

Canon David McBeth ‘thrilled’ by new appointments

The Rector of All Saints Clooney, Rev David McBeth, has been appointed a Canon of St Columb’s Cathedral and Rural Dean for Derry, in both cases succeeding Rev Paul Whittaker who retired last weekend.

The new Canon shared the news with his parishioners on Sunday morning. He described the news as “a thrill” not just for himself but for his family and said he was “blown away” when Bishop Andrew told him about the appointments.

“In 2016, I was honoured to be awarded a British Empire Medal in the late Queen Elizabeth II’s Birthday Honours,” Rev McBeth said, “but the news of these appointments surpasses even that. I’ve been in the diocese all my life and this is the highlight of my ministry.

“My favourite bible verse is Jeremiah 29:11: ‘I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to hurt you, plans to give you hope and a future.’ I’ve tried to follow God’s plan and he’s certainly blessed me for the future. I see my future ministry as doing the best I possibly can to serve Him and fulfil my calling in ordained ministry.

“I’m relatively well known in the Diocese,” Canon McBeth said, “and I feel that as Rural Dean I’ll be able to bring something to parishes that are experiencing vacancies. So, I look forward to the challenge and really hope that I will be a blessing to people.”

A date has yet to be arranged for the Service of Installation at the cathedral but the two appointments take effect immediately.