The new Rector of Leckpatrick and Dunnalong, Rev Canon Paul Whittaker, got more than he bargained for when – minutes after his Service of Institution, in St Patrick’s Church, in Ballymagorry – he learned that he had been appointed Rural Dean for Derry. The Bishop of Derry and Raphoe joked that it was probably one of the most rapid promotions in the history of the Church of Ireland.
Guests had travelled from as far away as Comber for Friday evening’s institution. Among the congregation were members of Canon Whittaker’s previous parishes, Errigal and Desertoghill (Garvagh), fellow clergy and parish readers from elsewhere in the Dioceses of Derry and Raphoe, members of neighbouring Church of Ireland parishes in Tyrone, and representatives of the Presbyterian, Methodist and Roman Catholic Churches.
Dignitaries included the Deputy Mayor of Derry City and Strabane Council, Alderman Derek Hussey; County Tyrone Deputy Lieutenant, Sydney Gamble; and the Diocesan President of Mothers’ Union, Jacqui Armstrong.
The service was a homecoming of sorts for the Preacher, Rev David McBeth, who said that some of the most significant events of his life had taken place in the Parishes of Leckpatrick and Dunnalong. “It was in these parishes that I got married to my wife April, 33 years ago,” Rev McBeth said. “It was in these parishes that I first made a confession of faith in Jesus as Lord and saviour. It was here that my children got baptised and confirmed. It was here that I preached my first sermon as a college student. And it is here tonight that I will preach my first ever sermon at an Institution Service.
Rev McBeth, who is Rector of All Saints Clooney, said he had become close friends with the Whittakers after they returned from Australia 13 years ago. Since then, he said, the couple had worked tirelessly to build up God’s kingdom in Garvagh. “Paul and Carol introduced new styles of worship. They developed the Spark programme to encourage young people in their journey of faith and they established cross-community projects which brought people from different traditions together. Their ministry was effective, meaningful and fruitful.”
Rev McBeth recalled the words of an old pastor who said, “The love you give your church will be returned.” Paul and Carol loved their parishioners in Errigal and Desertoghill, the Preacher said, and that love has been returned generously to them. “I know that it has been difficult for them to leave but they can leave knowing that they served God faithfully there.”
Canon Whittaker and Carol had now been called by God to serve in the Parishes of Leckpatrick and Dunnalong and Rev McBeth had “no doubt” that their ministry would once again be “effective, fruitful and meaningful for the glory of God and the building of Christ's Kingdom.”
Turning to the New Testament reading during Friday evening’s service (1 Peter, 5: 1-11), the Preacher identified the responsibilities facing leaders in the Christian Church to be shepherds of God’s flock; to oversee the flock; and to set a good example to the flock, without ever lording over them.
Jesus modelled servanthood and humility for Church leaders, Rev McBeth said. Knowing that the end of His life was near, Jesus tied a towel around his waist. He poured water into a basin and began to wash the feet of His disciples. This was the job of a common slave. But Jesus was willing to humble Himself and serve His disciples and he gave us this command to go and do likewise.
Rev McBeth’s sermon also addressed the ways in which members of the wider Church could help their leaders, through prayer, submission and servanthood.
“There are many works of service in the church,” he said. “Pastoral care to those who are bereaved, ill or housebound; outreach to the local community; youth work and young families; worship; the upkeep of church property; Bible studies; and our personal spiritual growth as individual members of Christ’s body. There are many works of service that the Lord’s people are called to do. These works are not just the rector’s but everyone’s responsibility.
“God’s word calls us – the body of Christ. Individually, we are members of that body. God calls every Christian to full-time service, no matter what capacity they serve in. Let us never forget, the work we do will make an eternal difference in the lives ofother people.”
Rev McBeth asked the congregation to pray for their Rector. “Whatever the parishioners of Leckpatrick and Dunnalong think, it was never your choice that Canon Paul is here. It was God’s. And remember: God does not make mistakes.”
“Paul writes, in Hebrews 13:17, ‘Obey your spiritual leaders and do what they say. Their work is to watch over your souls, and they are accountable to God. Give them reason to do this with joy and not with sorrow. That would certainly not be for your benefit.’
“God will give Canon Paul and Carol a clear vision for the direction of the church. Canon Paul – like all rectors, ministers, priests and pastors – will make tough decisions. They often initiate change or further development to make a church what God wants it to be and what He wants it to do.”
“Every situation represents an opportunity to grow in spirituality,” Rev McBeth said, “to grow in prayer, to grow in faith, to grow in servanthood, to grow in outreach and – if God decides – to grow in numbers.
“God has called Canon Paul and Carol to these parishes. They are a team. You have been richly blessed – I am sure the people of Garvagh would agree – they are both great leaders. God will give them a vision for the future. Support them, encourage them, pray for them as – together – you accompany them to fulfil God’s plan for these parishes. When you do this, God will bless you and the Church as a whole.”
The Service of Institution in Leckpatrick Parish Church was led by Bishop Good, assisted by the outgoing Rural Dean, Rev Canon Malcolm Ferry. Canon Whittaker was presented for Institution by the Archdeacon of Derry, Ven Robert Miller. Canon Ferry deputised for the Diocesan Registrar, Rev Canon David Crooks, who was unable to attend. Rev Nigel Cairns acted as Bishop’s Curate for the service. The readings were given by Diocesan Reader, Kaye Nesbitt, and Parish Reader, Vickie Forbes.
At the supper afterwards, in Milliken Hall, Canon Ferry was thanked by Bishop Good for arranging the service and for overseeing the 18-month vacancy in Leckpatrick and Dunnalong. The Bishop said Canon Ferry would be missed when he left shortly to take up ministry in the Parish of Agherton in the Diocese of Connor.
Canon Ferry pointed out that – as the new Rural Dean – Canon Whittaker would be looking after Canon Ferry’s parish, St Augustine’s, during the vacancy there.
Trevor Begley thanked Canon Whittaker and Carol, on behalf of the Parishioners of Errigal and Desertoghill, for their ministry which had made the congregation of St Paul's Church "stronger and better". Derek Donnell, representing the parishioners of Leckpatrick, said they understood how the Garvagh parishioners were now feeling. "Your loss is our gain." He said they would pray for their new Rector and give him their time and support. Mildred Deans - on behalf of the parishioners of Dunnalong - said they were excited to discover what the future held for them as a parish family. She also thanked Rev Arthur Burns and Rev Brian Hassan for their support during the vacancy.