The Bishop’s Curate-in-Charge of the Gweedore group of parishes, Rev Liz Fitzgerald, has been commissioned as the new Diocesan Chaplain of Derry and Raphoe Mothers’ Union at a service in St Columb’s Cathedral in Londonderry.

The commissioning happened during the colourful annual Mothers’ Union Diocesan Festival Service, which was returning to ‘normal service’ after almost three years’ disruption caused by Covid-19. 

This afternoon’s service was led by the Dean of Derry, Very Rev Raymond Stewart, who was assisted by Rev Canon John Merrick, Rev Canon Katie McAteer and Rev Fitzgerald. The address was given by Bishop Andrew Forster, who also commissioned the new diocesan chaplain.

In his address, Bishop Andrew remarked upon how colourful an occasion it was, with the Cathedral decorated for Harvest and the various branch banners adorning the front of the church. “It’s good to be here,” he said, “and doesn’t it feel almost a little bit of ‘normal’ again that we meet again to have our Festival Service and to enjoy each other’s company, and to sit beside each other and chat, and not have to worry about distancing and all those things, so it’s good to see you.”

The New Testament reading at today’s service came from Luke 19: 1-10, and told the story of Zacchaeus, the rich Chief Tax Collector whose life was transformed after an encounter with Jesus. “It’s fascinating, isn’t it,” Bishop Andrew said, “but it’s glorious because what we find in the life of Zacchaeus – this unpopular man, this man who had a few hang-ups and more – but Jesus didn’t miss him; he sees him, he sees him as he truly is, and he begins that process of change for him personally and change that’ll make the world a different place because of him. ‘Transformation Now’ is the story and the theme of Mothers’ Union this year and ‘Transformation Now’ is about the work of God in our lives and the work of God in other lives because of the work he has given us.

“Mothers’ Union have this incredible history,” the Bishop said, ”an incredible present and an incredible future, in how they seek to bring transformation into the lives of the poor – those who are physically, emotionally, economically and spiritually [poor] – and transformation into our world, because we’ve seen Jesus, because we have seen the Lord, and the grace that he has brought to bear in our lives is something that we’re compelled to share. It’s Good News.”

Earlier in the service, Templemore MU Branch Leader, Irene Hewitt, lit a candle in an act of remembrance for those loved ones whose lives had been lost during the pandemic. Before observing a short silence, the congregation were also asked to give thanks for the lives of Past Diocesan President, Helen Livingston (who died this year), and for Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, who was a patron of Mothers’ Union.

Before the Service began, a former Diocesan President, Mrs Avril McNee, presented the coveted Eileen Moore Memorial Award to Roberta Merrick, who received it on behalf of the Clondehorkey Branch. The award is given to the branch which collects the highest amount per member (€60) towards Mothers’ Union’s Worldwide Projects.

The Diocesan President of MU, Jacqui Armstrong, shared greetings with its members in the Order of Service. “In the Old Testament,” she wrote, “banners had special spiritual significance. A banner was not only used to rally the troops; it was used to declare allegiance to a certain person, group or cause. Today we carry our banners and gather together to declare our allegiance to God, to His love and His word.”

Ms Armstrong said God’s word was the seed they sowed, and they came in thankfulness for the fruitful harvest of the work of Mothers’ Union in the Diocese of Derry and Raphoe.“When God calls, He equips. Let’s be the change we wish to see in our communities, and let’s walk forward flying the banner of Christ’s love with kindness, courage and compassion. May all we are, everything we think, say and do, be blessed by God, constantly renewed and daily transformed through His awesome power and unfailing love.”