The close rapport between Bishop Ken Good and Bishop Donal McKeown was on display at the Summer Madness festival on the Antrim coast, on Saturday, as they talked and joked before an audience of Christians about their friendship and ministry.
The two men – who respectively lead the Diocese of Derry and Raphoe and the Diocese of Derry – were the guests at a seminar entitled ‘Our Journey Together’, held in the Church of Ireland Youth Department’s marquee.
Summer Madness, which is Ireland’s largest Christian festival, takes place in the grounds of Glenarm Castle and this year is expected to attract around three thousand people over the five days of the event – more than half of whom will camp on-site. Unlike in other recent years, suncream was a 'must-have' commodity as festival-goers gathered under blue skies and in blazing sunshine.
The two bishops talked about the many things they have in common, as well as the differences between them. Bishop Donal recalled his counterpart’s frequent joke that “Anglican bishops have their better halves but Catholic clergy generally have the better quarters.”
Both men are graduates in foreign languages; they have each run two marathons (with Bishop Ken pointing out that his friend finished two in the time it took him to complete just one); and they have tried to build on the work of their predecessors – especially Bishops Edward Daly and James Mehaffey.
It was their joint ministry in the North West – especially their Columban pilgrimages together – that seemed to most interest their audience. For those already familiar with this aspect of their work, though, an exchange near the end of the event offered a fascinating new insight.
The two men discussed the qualities they had observed in each other. Bishop Good said he admired Bishop McKeown’s ability to interact with people. “I think he has a remarkable way with people. His memory of names, his ability to just relate to people – and I saw this is Rome, particularly – he’s a real people-person and there’s a warmth about him, there’s a ‘down-to-earthness’ about him, I actually think he’s a very good bishop – I’m quite serious about that, it’s true – and he has that warm ability to get on and relate to his people.”
Bishop McKeown said, “People together can do much more than an individual can do. I may have my strengths but Ken, all those walks came from you calling meetings in your office; you were the organiser; you put a structure in place; you kept me on track. I can bring a certain amount of energy and personal relationship but you have great organisational ability. Mary hosts a number of gatherings – what is it, four in June? – where you invite in a couple of hundred people for an evening meal from all the people you’ve known across the diocese and across the whole area. So, we do complement one another as well. I can bring a certain amount of energy but you can bring the focus to it, the structure to it, so together we’re blessed having each other by being different, because we recognise the skills that the other has – which is a wonderful way to have a relationship. We’ve been blessed in having each other to complement one another.”
The one person who has probably seen that relationship at closest quarters is Mrs Good who said, “I think what Donal and Ken are trying to do is show that Christ is relational, that your relationship with Christ is all about relationships.”
Mrs Good then shared her own observations on the men’s friendship with the seminar audience. “Their relationship together is not about being a bishop stuck up on a hill that nobody can approach. It’s about being Donal and being Ken, sharing relations together, showing their relationship with Christ together, and being approachable by people within Derry and Raphoe together, and not being these lofty, untouchable people that are totally irrelevant. It’s about being on the ground and being seen in the city, having coffee together, laughing together, going to the theatre together, they sat under a rain tent at the Derry Tattoo together getting soaked, and it’s just about being relational and relaying that, that their relationship with Christ is that, that their relationship with each other – and the people of Derry and Raphoe – is that.”
Members of Derry and Raphoe Mothers’ Union donated thirty dozen tray-bakes which were sold at Summer Madness to raise funds for International Justice Mission, which rescues people from slavery and fights to end human trafficking.