There was double cause for celebration in St Eunan’s Cathedral in Raphoe on Sunday evening (28th May 2024) as Rev Canon Mervyn Peoples was installed as Prebendary of Killymard and a member of the Cathedral Chapter on the day that he and his wife, Diane, celebrated their 48th wedding anniversary.

The couple’s children and grandchildren were in the Cathedral for an historic occasion for the Raphoe Group and an emotional one for the Peoples family.

The service was led by the Dean of Raphoe, Very Rev Liz Fitzgerald, and presided over by the Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev Andrew Forster.

The appointment was first announced last December by Bishop Andrew, and filled the vacancy in the Cathedral Chapter which followed the retirement of Rev Canon Judi McGaffin.

Canon Peoples has served in more than a dozen parishes in our diocese since his ordination, and clergy and parishioners from many of them were in St Eunan’s for this evening’s service.

The sermon was preached by the Rector of the Parish of Agherton (Portstewart), Rev Malcolm Ferry, reciprocating the service done almost eight years earlier when Canon People’s preached at the installation of the new Canon Ferry in St Columb’s Cathedral.

In his sermon this evening, Rev Ferry said, “Knowing Mervyn for as long as I do, I know that honour, position and status do not fit well in the same sentence as the name ‘Mervyn Peoples’. Mervyn was never one to look for – or be remotely interested in – the ladder of perceived success and fame. To use a football analogy, Mervyn did his talking ‘on the pitch’ of parish life by his work. He is a pastor first and foremost; a pastor second and always; and a pastor loved and respected.

“Where should a pastor do his talking?,” Rev Ferry asked. “On the pitch – which, for Mervyn, was the living rooms of the homes he faithfully visited; the bedsides where he brought the love and compassion of God to the sick and dying; and, of course, to the hospital wards where like all of us who are ordained, prayer and ministry to whoever stopped and said, ‘Hi, Father, can you come and pray with the family?’

The preacher said that two lives were about to change after, and as a result of, this evening’s service: Canon Peoples’ life and “the life of this cathedral church”, placed in the midst of Raphoe and district.

“So, this pastor’s heart now has a role within this historic place,” Canon Ferry suggested. “The change for Canon Peoples will be one he takes very seriously. He is a senior clergy of the Diocese and with that comes a need to be careful in the use of foolish words or gimmick-led tokenism, especially when it comes to the proclamation of the Gospel. Mervyn has that genuineness of faith that won’t dip into the mire of popularism.

“Mervyn will ‘struggle’, in a sense, with the status of being in a position of authority and wisdom, not because of lack of knowledge – far from it – but because he’s normally, I’m going to say, shy when it comes to being the centre of attention. So, Mervyn, step up…… you are a man of wisdom and faith, and the younger clergy and people will benefit from your purity of faith and humble example.

“The second life that must change is the life of this place. The Dean has now, as one of her colleagues, a pastor of Gold Standard. His witness here may be to support and encourage the pastoral heart of this wonderful place. It would be such a wonderful thing for the beating heart of a building like this to be the pastoral heart of the parishioners and of the town and wider community.”

Rev Ferry said the life of the Cathedral wasn’t set back in some ancient times. The life of this place was not to hark back to some perceived glory days. The life of this place was now, he said. “The life of the cathedral will reflect the time we find ourselves [in] now. We are to proclaim the Gospel now – this evening and for the days to come – in this historic and and beautiful church.

“And there in that sentence – ‘We are to proclaim the Gospel now’ – it creates a door for me to open, which Mervyn will expect. In his mind, he would say, ‘First and foremost, Malcolm, this evening should be about our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.’ Now, that would be Mervyn’s call to me.”

After the sermon, the Diocesan Registrar, Rev Canon David Crooks, brought the new Canon forward and read the Bishop’s Mandate, after which Dean Fitzgerald invited Canon Peoples to make the Chapter Declaration.

The congregation had to wait until the supper afterwards, in the nearby Cathedral Hall, to hear from him again. There, Canon Peoples thanked Bishop Andrew for conferring on him “the great privilege” of being a Canon in the ancient Cathedral of St Eunan, and Dean Fitzgerald for making the preparations for the Service of Installation.

“It was in this Cathedral parish,” he said, “that I commenced my ministry in 2006, under Dean Hay, who unfortunately cannot be with us tonight due to health reasons, but we wish him well. And this unique place holds very, very special memories for me, from the Mothers’ Union concerts here in the hall to the unforgettable Sunday School. And I also want to mention tonight my many friends and colleagues who have made the journey here tonight, in many cases travelling many miles to be with us. I thank each one of you for your support and the encouragement that you have been to me over so many years.

“Tonight I want to thank especially our preacher, Rev Malcolm Ferry, whom I have known and respected for many years, having served under him in All Saints Clooney in Londonderry. We worked really well together, we never had an argument or a bad word or a falling out throughout all the years we were there, and I’m sure that’s largely due to him.

“It would be remiss of me if I did not thank my wife Diane for the many times that Church life meant that family occasions were sacrificed. This, of course, is something that all clergy experience in their ministry. Diane has been and continues to be a wonderful source of inspiration. Today, as you’ve heard, we celebrated our 48th wedding anniversary and each one of those years has been a blessing to me. It was pure chance that our anniversary fell on the date of my installation.”

Canon Peoples thanked those who had prepared the supper, and again thanked all those who had come to the service.

“At the end of my ordination service as a priest in 2007, the Bishop said these words: ‘Remember always with thanksgiving that the treasure now entrusted to you is Christ’s own flock.’ These words have resonated with me ever since. Christ’s own flock is, indeed, a true treasure that all ordained clergy have entrusted to them. It has been, and remains, a great privilege to treasure Christ’s own flock and to serve them wherever I have been across our great united Dioceses. And one thing I’ve found is that there are so many committed Christian people everywhere. All they ask is to be loved and cared for in Christ’s sheepfold. To be nourished, encouraged and built up in their faith. And, of course, I thank Almighty God for granting me the strength to carry out my ministry.

“Some people, in recent months, have asked me if I’m fearful for the future with regard to the outcome of our Diocesan Review,” Canon Peoples said. “I am not fearful, and rather optimistic, because we will have the opportunity to take stock and build an even stronger church in Derry and Raphoe. After all, we are Easter people – a people of hope – because, as I have said on many occasions over the years, we know that in the end God’s church will prevail. Of that, we can be certain.”

The proceedings were brought to a close by Bishop Andrew who said that sometimes the decisions that bishops made could make them unpopular and sometimes the decisions that bishops made could make them popular. “Do you see making Canon Mervyn Peoples a canon, I tell you, that’s made me very popular. It really has.”

Bishop Andrew took a moment to explain why he had appointed Canon Peoples to the position. “Mervyn has given sterling service to many parishes across this diocese. When I go around the diocese people will often ask me where Mervyn is and they’ll tell me of some kindnesses he has shown to them in the past. Without complaint he has been ready to go wherever he has been asked to go to serve God. He has done that with full energy, with full commitment, with a full love for God and his church. And, as Bishop, I want to acknowledge that in one of the few tangible ways that I can, by making him a Canon of the Cathedral. That’s one of the reasons – the service that Mervyn has given and continues to give.

“But I want to say – and this will embarrass him – St Paul talks about the fruit of the Spirit. Now, fruit is something that grows on trees. An apple tree grows apples and a pear tree grows pears. For Christians, we are told by St Paul what the fruit of the Spirit should be that grows in us. You can read about it in Paul’s Letter to the Galatians, and he says this: ‘The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self-control.

“That fruit of the Spirit is so evidently seen in the life of Canon Mervyn Peoples. And making him – and asking him to be – a Canon in this Cathedral was one way of being able to acknowledge his service and his godliness, and that’s a joy for me, as it is a joy for all of us in the Diocese of Derry and Raphoe.”