A slice of diocesan history was created in north Donegal on the evening of Friday 8th September when a new parish grouping was inaugurated at a Service of Introduction for the new Priest-in-charge of the Grouped Parishes of Clondevaddock and Mevagh, Rev Chris Matchett.
The service took place in the Church of Christ the Redeemer on a balmy evening in Rossnakill. Serving and retired clergy from all corners of the diocese joined parishioners from the three other churches now under Rev Matchett’s leadership – Holy Trinity Carrigart, All Saints’ Portsalon and Leatbeg Chapel of Ease.
The service was led by the Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev Andrew Forster, assisted by the Archdeacon of Raphoe, Ven David Huss, the Archdeacon of Derry, Ven Robert Miller, and the Bishop’s Curate for the occasion, Rev Sean McClafferty. The sermon was preached by the rector of the Monaghan Group of Parishes, Revd Chancellor Ian Berry, who is a long-standing friend of Rev Matchett’s.
Among those in the congregation on this historic evening were Rev Matchett’s wife, Ali, and Bishop Andrew’s predecessor, Rt Rev Ken Good.
Bishop Andrew said he was delighted to be in Rossnakill to give thanks to God for Rev Matchett’s leadership and ministry. “It’s a red letter day because it is, in many ways, the inauguration of a new parish group, made possible by a miracle of engineering – the new bridge which brings Carrigart and the Fanad Group together. So, it’s a very special evening for the parishes, for Chris and Ali, for the diocese and for each one of us.
“My hope and prayer, this evening, is that we will have a deep sense of celebration, but also a deep sense of the ‘Yes’ of almighty God, the ‘ Yes’ that’s in God’s plan for this new group of parishes to be together, the ‘Yes’ that’s in God’s plan for Chris and Ali to come and serve among you, and the ‘ Yes’ that’s in God’s plan that we are here as the people of God to serve Him and to worship Him and to know his love and to make His love known in this beautiful part of His creation.”
The preacher, Rev Ian Berry, has known the new Priest-in-charge since their days in theological college almost 30 years ago. Rev Berry focused on the New Testament reading from Acts 20, 28-35, in which St Paul addresses the elders of the Church in Ephesus, having followed God’s call in the 20 years since Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus.
“When he tells them, ‘Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God which he bought with his own blood’, this is what he [Paul] has done and it’s what he is doing. And it’s what clergy ought to do as well.”
The preacher said events such as Friday evening’s Service of Introduction, ordinations, institutions, all such occasions were “a reminder of what we [clergy] are called to, and how we are following God’s call in our lives.” He said that all members of the church had to trust and rely and depend on Jesus each day. “Just as Chris is following God’s call on and in his life, just as it’s brought him to this night and to this place, it is what every parishioner needs to do.”
Rev Berry addressed the parishioners of Clondevaddock and Mevagh directly. “You may need to stay faithful to God’s call in your lives, to be a good flock, to be happy and to be watched over and to be led; to be here at Sunday worship, in private prayer, in Bible-reading and in study. You are to build each other up, encouraging others to be faithful to God’s call, confident in God’s word.”
The preacher said Rev Matchett’s new parishioners would “get to know Chris as he leads, as he cares, as he ministers and lives here in this gloriously beautifully part of the Church of Ireland. You’ll get to know him as a colleague in the diocese. Here you’ll get to know him as he preaches, and reads, and prays and leads worship, baptises, celebrates Holy Communion, welcomes people through that door at the back, and pastors in this area and in this group. You see, that’s how the elders in Ephesus got to know Paul.”
Drawing his sermon to a close, Rev Berry observed that this was “a new era for this group, for Chris, for Ali and the diocese.” He finished with words of reassurance for Rev Matchett: “Chris, we are furnished for God’s call by the continual presence and provision and grace of God that gives us what is needed to seek and serve and follow Him.”
The evening ended with a splendid supper in Tamney Hall, laid on by the parishioners in honour of their new minister. There were speeches of welcome from lay representatives of the parishes, from local parish priest, Fr Charles Byrne, and Bishop Andrew, and there was a response from the new Priest-in-charge which began with a few words in Irish.
Rev David Griscome – who was prominent among those ministering to the parishes during the recent vacancy – was singled out for acknowledgement and applause.
Incidentally, there was an amusing moment in church just before the service began, as people were being ushered into their seats. Two ladies were asked by a member of the parish team, “Are you dignitaries?”
“No,” one of the women replied, “we’re normal. We’re clergy wives.”
For the Rev Chris, this new ministry is a homecoming of sorts. He is a son of the diocese, having been born and grown up in Londonderry where he was a parishioner of Christ Church.