‘Never work with children or animals’ is a piece of advice attributed to the American comedian WC Fields. While it may hold true for showbusiness, it clearly isn’t observed in church life.
The celebration supper following the institution of Rev David Skuce as Rector of the Dunfanaghy, Raymunterdoney and Tullaghobegley – during which a number of children participated – culminated in the arrival onstage in the parish hall of Rev Skuce’s beloved pet dog, Tara.
It brought a cheery end to an enjoyable but breezy evening in the seaside village of Dunfanaghy in North West Donegal.
For the Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev Ken Good, who retires in less than a month’s time, it was a last Service of Institution. For the new incumbent, it marked a return to a diocese where he had served previously, albeit a number of years ago and at the other end of the county.
Members of his previous parish, Inishmacsaint in the Diocese of Clogher, crossed the Fermanagh-Donegal border to support their departing Rector as he took up duties in what the local rural dean, Rev Mervyn Peoples, described as “a five-star group of parishes”.
The preacher at the Service of Institution in Holy Trinity Church, Rev Paul Thompson, Rector of Derryvullen North, in Irvinestown, has been a friend of Rev Skuce for over 30 years (another contemporary, Rev Clifford Skillen, was also in the congregation) since they trained together in Dublin.
“David has a strong pastoral heart,” the preacher said. “He will see the ministry that he exercises here in these parishes and wider community as a ministry that is about being alongside people, in all the ups and downs of life. He will be there, I know, in your moments of laughter, and I know he will also be there in those times of tears. He will pray with you and he will pray for you; and he will support you prayerfully with care and compassion and love in the good times and the hard times.”
Referring to the First Reading, Numbers 27: 15-23, in which Moses seeks divine guidance in appointing a new leader, Rev Thompson said the new Rector had come to Dunfanaghy to do God’s work. “When someone is ordained, that person is being set apart – chosen – to carry out a ministry that isn’t simply a personal whim or a private thought or a good idea, but a ministry that is always, at all times, carried out and offered in the name of God and the Church of God.”
The Preacher told the congregation their new Rector hadn’t come to Dunfanaghy as a private individual, or simply because it was a good idea. “He is here as a successor, one in a long chain of people who have ministered in this place. Ministry is never mine or his. That he stands in succession to many others is a reminder that the ministry of the Church, the ordained ministry and the ministry of each one of you, is never mine or his or hers but God’s.”
Ministry is not an individual activity, the preacher said, and the responsibility on other members of the parish group was a theme the Rev Thompson returned to in his sermon, when he appealed for support for Rev Skuce. “His role is no solo run. That isn’t the way he works. He is here to support, to care for, to lead and to teach, so that people of these parishes may be enabled to fulfil their own vocation to minister – to be the women, the men, the children, the young people of God.”
Bishop Good was assisted in the Institution Service by the Archdeacon of Raphoe, Ven David, Huss; the Diocesan Registrar, Rev Canon David Crooks; Rev Peoples (who had ministered during the vacancy in Dunfanaghy); and Rev Adam Pullen (Chaplain). The readings were read by Patrick Knowles and local parish priest Fr Martin Doohan. The Gospel was read by Canon Jimmy McPhillips, the parish priest of Aghalurcher in LIsnaskea.
After the Service, visiting clergy – including those from other Churches – joined members of the congregation in walking the short distance to the parish hall for a splendid supper and speeches.
Fr McPhillips revealed that Rev Skuce was “an amazing cook” and advised his new parishioners that if they were to call to the rectory for advice they should “go around dinnertime”.
Barry Anderson from Inishmacsaint listed the many qualities his former minister possessed – his caring attitude, his generosity with his time, his ability to listen and not to judge, his compassion, his sound advice, his calm nature, his friendship, his pastoral care. “You are going to get the full package here,” he assured the people of Dunfanaghy.
Patrick Knowles welcomed the new Rector, to Dunfanaghy on behalf of the people of the Parish Group, and assured Rev Skuce of their total support. “We have a faithful group of committed, hard workers, alert and ready to help out at a moment’s notice.” He said they were all looking forward to working with their new minister in the months and years ahead. “And, bearing in mind what I have just heard, if, for example, the church wardens have anything we need to speak to you about, we will know to maximise this by calling to the rectory at dinnertime. I would advise our parishioners to do likewise.”
Rev Skuce suggested his culinary skills had been greatly exaggerated. “The secret to my cooking is ‘180 degrees for two hours will do most things’.” He thanked Bishop Good for accepting his nomination and wished the Bishop and Mrs Good every happiness in their retirement. “Mervyn said the group of parishes here were a five-star group – great people to work with and they work well together,” the Rector said. “The Church is not the building but is the people of God coming along and witnessing together for God, and to me it’s amazing what can be done under the guidance of God when everyone pulls together for the good of the whole Church.”
Bishop Good thanked Rev Peoples for “doing an outstanding job” as Rural Dean and for filling in during the vacancy. “Wherever I have asked Mervyn to serve he has done it humbly, quietly, gently but really effectively, in many parishes around the Diocese.”
The Bishop thanked Rev Skuce for his responsiveness to God’s call. “You will have great colleagues around you and support. I will support you for the next month,” the Bishop joked, “and after that my successor will support you.” Bishop Good announced “a rapid promotion” for the new Rector – whom he appointed as the new Dean for the Kilmacrennan East and West Rural Deanery – and had some words of advice for another senior clergyman: “Archdeacon, watch out. He might even be Archdeacon next week.”
Archdeacon Huss thanked the Bishop in jest “for announcing my retirement as well as his” and said he looked forward to a long and happy retirement. “Perhaps I’ll come to Dunfanaghy when I do because what a great place this is. One of my earliest memories of Church in fact was in Holy Trinity, Dunfanaghy, it must’ve been in 1979, around Eastertime. We used to always come up and stay in Arnold’s Hotel. Bill [Arnold] was just a young whippersnapper himself then. But I have a snapshot memory from when I was about 3 or 4 of being at Holy Communion Service in Holy Trinity on Easter Sunday, so it’s always a great pleasure to come back and to be here.”
Archdeacon Huss thanked the women and men of the Dunfanaghy Group for their generous welcome and for their kindness and hospitality in laying on a splendid supper for the visitors.
Rev Peoples brought the celebrations to a close by paying tribute – on behalf of parishioners – to Bishop Good’s leadership, guidance and encouragement over the last 17 years. “Bishop, you have been a great blessing to our Diocese and much that has been achieved has been down to your direction and your leadership. We want to express tonight our sincere thanks to you and to Mrs Good for all that you have done, and to wish you every blessing in your long and happy retirement together. It is well-deserved and we do wish you God’s blessing.”
The evening ended with the presentation of a magnificent bouquet of flowers to the Bishop’s wife, Mrs Mary Good, by Mrs Roberta Merrick, on behalf of parishioners.