The new Rector of Desertmartin and Termoneeny, Rev Philip Benson, led prayers for the people of Ukraine on Friday evening (25th February) during his Service of Institution in St Comgall’s Church in Desertmartin.

The new incumbent was instituted by the Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev Andrew Forster, who described it as “a red-letter day” for the parishes. The service marked the end of a vacancy that had lasted over two years, following the retirement of the previous Rector, Rev Mike Dornan.

As the service drew to a close, Rev Benson gave thanks to God for the peace that he offered us, and prayed for those living in areas where there was conflict and violence. “So, we commend to your merciful prayer the people and government of Ukraine that being guided by your providence, they may dwell secure in your peace. Grant to their leaders and all in authority wisdom and strength to know and to do your will. Fill them with the love of truth and righteousness, and make them ever mindful of their calling to serve their people. And we ask your blessing upon the work of the United Nations and all who seek to build peace.”

Earlier in the service, the Preacher, Rev Chris Mac Bruithin – who has known the new incumbent since their student days – disclosed to the congregation in St Comgall’s that their new Rector was a Star Trek fan – “when I say fan, I mean fanatic” – was a Leeds United fan and had already ‘liked’ Desertmartin FC on social media. He also had a quick wit and was very good at puns. “I thought that tonight, in Philip’s honour, and in light of our Gospel passage, I might try my hand at some puns. It’s a reading in which branches are bearing fruit and I thought, ‘Philip’s branching out in the Diocese, he’s going out on a limb coming here, but he’s landed a plum job.’”

Rev Mac Bruithin reminded the new incumbent that God himself had brought him to the Parishes of Desertmartin and Termoneeny to bear fruit, where he would do things in his own way in the skin that God had put him in.

“You’ll learn very quickly,” the preacher told the congregation, “that Philip has a gentle strength, and that in my experience is a rare thing to come across; Philip has a sincere love of God; he has a genuine love of people and he will love you. He has a knowledge of scripture and he has an ability to teach it, and he has a sensitivity for reconciliation.

“Philip, you could have applied those talents and transferred those skills to other careers and made lots of money and made a real success, but you’ve offered them as a gift to God.”

Before instituting the new Rector, Bishop Andrew assured him that “the modesty” of the gathering – the church was still practising social distancing and sitting in alternating pews – did not reflect the huge welcome that he was getting. “Our prayer tonight, as you begin this new chapter in your life as a family, as you begin this new chapter in your ministry, our prayer tonight is that you will quickly feel at home, that you will know the love of the family of God in these parishes, and you’ll know the equipping of the Holy Spirit as a family and as a minister of the Gospel in this place.

“A Service of Institution is a red-letter day, it’s a red-letter day for a parish. It’s a day when we look back in thankfulness for all that’s gone before, and we look ahead, we look ahead with excitement as to what God plans for us in the future. You know, we’re living in challenging times for any church as we move out of the pandemic, and what you will have in your new rector is someone who will help you together to find what it is to renew, rebuild and re-energise the Church of Jesus Christ in these parishes for what we face ahead, with both trepidation but also joy, because this is God’s work, and we delight in being part of God’s work this night.”

During Friday evening’s service, gratitude was expressed to the Rev Tommy Allen, who had provided cover in the parishes during the two-year vacancy. Bishop Andrew was assisted in the service by the Archdeacon of Derry, Ven. Robert Miller; the Diocesan Registrar, Rev Canon David Crooks; the Rural Dean, Rev Canon Colin Welsh, and the Bishop’s Curate, Rev Carmen Hayes.