“There’s a stirring going on here,” the Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev Ken Good, told worshippers in Donegal Town, on Friday evening, “and practical steps are being taken to respond to spiritual things”. He was speaking at the Service of Thanksgiving and Re-dedication which followed the restoration of Donegal Parish Church, which was built in 1828 and which had sustained significant damage in a Christmas Day lightning strike just over two years ago.
The Republic’s Minister for Education, Fine Gael Deputy Joe McHugh, and Sinn Féin TD, Pearse Doherty, were in the congregation to hear the bishop compare the Jerusalem of the 6th century B.C. to modern day Ireland. Also present were the Mayor of Donegal Town and Surrounding Areas, Pauric Kennedy, county councillors, clergy from other churches and the bishop’s wife, Mrs Mary Good.
The Rector of Donegal Group of Parishes and Archdeacon of Raphoe, Ven. David Huss, began the service with an update on the fundraising effort to pay for the restoration work – mostly to the spire and tower of the building. “We’re delighted that over the past 12 months, thanks to the generosity of so many people, over €128,000 has been raised – which takes us within striking distance of our over-all target of €186,000 to complete the payment of the work.”
The Rector said Donegal Parish Church was a much-loved landmark in the town and they were delighted to see it restored to its original glory. “I would venture to say it’s looking as good as it has since 1828,” he said. “A church spire is a pointer to heaven, an arrow looking upwards and encouraging us in the midst of our busy lives to turn our thoughts towards the Lord, and that is what we’ll be doing tonight.”
Archdeacon Huss said the Service of Thanksgiving and Re-dedication was an opportunity to thank all who had been involved in this project in any way: the contractors Rainey Restoration, Paul Doherty Architects and the numerous craftsmen whose skills had enabled the restoration work to be done. He acknowledged the work of the overseeing committee and the Select Vestry who had guided every step of the process. “To friends far and wide who contributed to the ‘Save Our Spire’ Appeal we are hugely grateful.” The Rector also thanked various grant-making bodies – including EJM Trust, Donegal County Council, the Department of Heritage and the Church of Ireland Fabric Fund – the many volunteers who had held fundraising events, and the local community “who dug deep again and again to lend their support to this project”.
In his sermon, Bishop Good said it was a big night: a big night for the community, as well as for the parish, and for the town, and for the county and for the Church of Ireland. “So, to all those who’ve worked hard – and much hard work has been done – I want to say my own personal thanks and congratulations. To the architects, builders, craftspeople, generous donors, people involved in any way, I say to you all well done.”
Bishop Good said the Old Testament reading that Fr William Peoples read – Haggai 1:1-15, in which the prophet criticises the people for living in their panelled houses while the Lord’s house remained a ruin – was “quite different” from what had just happened here in Donegal Parish. “You have not procrastinated. You have not delayed. You have got it done, and that is why I’m paying tribute to you.”
In the reading, the people knew that the temple needed to be repaired, Bishop Good said, they could see it, but the problem was that their own houses needed to be repaired, too. So, they postponed the work on the temple, and that dragged on for weeks and months and years.
“And then, into the picture comes Haggai, the prophet, and he has a word to say that goes right to the heart of the matter, and right to the heart of the people, because what he said was this – and I think it’s a powerful speech that you could say to Ireland today, or to any society today. He said, I notice you in your panelled house.
“Panelled houses are those houses with brand new fitted kitchens; panelled houses are those with new conservatories and central heating; panelled houses are those with ensuite bathrooms that have been added; panelled houses belong to those people who go on extra holidays to Mediterranean resorts, not far from Jerusalem; panelled houses are those where luxuries are able to be afforded but they can’t quite yet get round to the temple.
“And Haggai says this – and I think it’s powerful – he says: when I look at your life I hear you say, I’m working harder than ever but I’m less fulfilled, there’s something missing. We’re focusing on producing crops, developing businesses, building portfolios and investments, but there’s an inner dissatisfaction and a spiritual malaise. And then he puts it like this – Haggai the prophet – he said: you keep filling your plates with food but you never feel full; you keep drinking and drinking but you always are thirsty; you put on layer after layer of fashionable clothes but you can’t seem to get warm. Take a look at your life, Haggai says, think it over. You expected much from your lifestyle in Jerusalem. Contentment, you thought, fulfilment, happiness, but it turned out to be little. What is the root of the problem? Haggai says the root of the problem is that my house – the temple – lies in ruins while each of you is busy with your own.
“Now, that was a powerful spiritual analysis and I think that what he is saying is that the temple is really symbolic of the priority on spiritual things or otherwise. The principal, the root issue, is that something deeper is going on in people’s hearts and souls, and their spiritual fulfilment, their spiritual vitality, has been weakened and dulled by their materialistic priorities.”
Bishop Good drew attention to the “solemn words” in the last line of the New Testament reading, from James, chapter 4. ‘If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.’ “There are some spiritual responsibilities that we need to take seriously,” the Bishop said, “and not allow ourselves to be ‘someday’ people with regard to them. It’s not just a take-it-or-leave-it matter. Saying ‘wait’ to God indefinitely can rob us of life. Settling for second best, when we could’ve stepped out with him and been courageous and responsive, we need to take that seriously.”
Bishop Good paid tribute to Archdeacon Huss for his leadership in the Donegal Group of Parishes and for the manner in which he was helping his congregations to grow in discipleship. He also commended parishioners for “seizing the moment” and allowing the Lord to stir them into action.
“We don’t like to be stirred into action, Bishop Good said,“we have other things we need to be doing. Now, the strike of lightning may’ve had something to do with you being stirred into action. I was here shortly after it happened, on Christmas Day 2016, and there were things strewn all over the place – the lightning had hit the spire and come right down, and all of the electrics were shattered – that’s a way of getting your attention!
“But, on a more serious note, I think you have been stirred into action – with your leadership, Archdeacon. There’s a stirring going on here, and practical steps are being taken to respond to spiritual things. I have noticed the Mustard Seed project. I think that’s evidence of not wanting to procrastinate but saying yes, Lord, we think we should do this and we’re going to do it. We don’t know if we can afford it but we’re going to do it.
“Having a parish outreach worker, that’s a sign of courageous willingness to take a step of faith. A parish administrator – not all parishes have them. A week of prayer – that’s a stirring, that’s an unusual thing, a spiritual stepping out in faith. A prayer walk. There are things going on round here that seem to me to be signs of the stirring of the spirit and that is good.
“Rather than procrastinating – saying someday we’ll round to that, we know it’s important but someday we’ll do it – you’re saying now we will do it. The Four Parishes Challenge, the Golf Classic, the Laghey Development Fund Option, the Church Tidy-up, that’s a sign of being stirred. I want to commend you and say thank you, Lord, for stirring these people.”
Following the Service, the congregation were invited to the nearby Abbey Hotel for refreshments and fellowship.