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
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
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
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
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.