The faces of the parishioners of Maghera and Killelagh were wreathed in smiles on Thursday evening as they welcomed the institution of their new Rector, Rev Jonathan Brown in St Lurach’s Church in Maghera. The new incumbent’s former parishioners, who had travelled all the way from Hillsborough for the occasion, looked less pleased, although they wished him well in his new ministry, conceding – generously and graciously – that in Rev Brown his new parishioners were getting “a good man”.

The Service of Institution marked the end of an eight-month vacancy following the resignation of the previous incumbent, Rev Terence Kerr.

Bishop Andrew Forster welcomed the congregation to a “special occasion for all of us – for the parishioners, for the diocese and most especially for Jonathan and Julie”. He said he and the congregation were looking forward to getting to know the new Rector better. “One of the things that everybody wants to find out from Jonathan Brown,” Bishop Andrew said, “is how come he looks so young?”

It was a good sign for the parishioners of Maghera and Killelagh, the Bishop suggested, that two of their former rectors had returned to St Lurach’s for the service. The Bishop said Rev Canon Ian McDonald and Archdeacon Robert Miller were delighted to come back. 

The sermon was preached by the Rev Canon Dr Bryan Follis, the Rector of Hillsborough Parish where Rev Brown had served as a curate. Dr Follis had chosen the first reading from Scripture, from Nehemiah 1:1-11. The congregation may have wondered, he said, how the passage – which was set in Babylon in 450 BC – could be relevant to a church and rector in Northern Ireland in 2022? The Bible was the word of God, he said; it had direct relevance for all God’s people, at all times and in all places. “It’s the word of God,” Dr Follis said, “and as such it’s supreme within our church in all matters of faith and conduct.”

The preacher said he wanted to focus on the insight the reading afforded into the person and character of Nehemiah, and apply that to Rev Brown and to his new parish. Nehemiah was a godly man, who made a significant impact for the Kingdom of God. “It wasn’t just projects; people mattered to Nehemiah.” Nehemiah was pastoral, prayerful and prophetic. He had a concern and a passion for those in need; he shared their pain and felt their pain. “Any rector in any parish who will make any meaningful contribution to that parish, must be pastoral. And to the people of this parish, I want to reassure you that Jonathan Brown is extremely pastoral. One of the things about Jonathan which stand out from his time as a colleague in Hillsborough is his deep concern and care for individual parishioners. He is very pastoral, and I believe that as your rector Jonathan will prove an effective and faithful rector.”

The preacher urged Rev Brown to be “proactive” like Nehemiah. “Be ‘out and about’, get to know individuals, build relationships, be known as their pastor as well as their rector, not just formally but relationally and pastorally as someone whom they can trust, someone who cares – for that is who you are – and know your people individually. May God use you as an instrument of grace and mercy in this place.”

Dr Brown appealed to the people of Maghera and Killelagh to support their new Rector. “Jonathan is not – despite being very able, despite being a hard worker – is not a one-man band, to do all the work or ministry of this parish.” To put it bluntly and practically, the preacher said, that meant that every parishioner who was a believer and who trusted in Christ, had a ministry, a role and a responsibility. It might be with Sunday school; it might be assisting at a service, or catering at a parish function. “Whatever our talents, whatever our gifts, whatever our personality – and we’re all different – but each believer is called to serve the Lord.

“As Jonathan serves here in this parish, there needs to be a partnership with the people. Jonathan is called by God to be pastoral, to be prayerful and to be prophetic. But you, the believers, are called to a partnership. Honour that calling. Jonathan, I know, will honour God’s calling upon him, and I invite the parish to honour God’s calling upon you in partnership.”

Thursday’s Service of Institution was organised by the Rural Dean, Rev Canon Colin Welsh. Bishop Andrew was assisted by the Archdeacon of Derry, Ven Robert Miller (who presented the incumbent-elect for institution); Diocesan Registrar, Rev Canon David Crooks; and by the Bishop’s Curate, Rev Carmen Hayes.

After the service, the congregation made their way to the adjoining parish hall for speeches and supper.