“I hope today will become part of the folklore of the Omagh Rural Deanery,” Bishop Ken Good said on Sunday afternoon, as he began the Service of Confirmation that would see him lay hands on almost 70 children in St Columba’s Church in Omagh.
It was standing room only in Drumragh Parish Church as parents, guardians, siblings and grandparents from parishes as far north as Urney and as far south as Clanabogan filled every available pew for the last Confirmation Service of Bishop Good’s episcopacy. He is due to retire as Bishop of Derry and Raphoe at the end of this month.
The unseasonably good weather remained constant for the afternoon as the Bishop was joined by rectors and clergy from throughout the rural deanery. He was assisted during the Service by the Rural Dean for Omagh, Rt Rev Canon Robert Clarke; the Rector of Cappagh & Lislimnaghan, Rev Canon Derek Quinn; the Rector of the Ardstraw Group of Parishes, Rev Ivan Dinsmore; the Rector of Derg and Termonamongan, Rev Peter Ferguson; Rev Naomi Quinn (Curate, Derg and Termonamongan); the Bishop's Curate in Urney, Rev Jonathan McFarland; and the Curate in Drumragh with Mountfield, Rev Sean Hanily.
There was a surprise in store for the young confirmands during the sermon as Bishop Good held up a drawing of one of the cartoon heroes from his childhood to illustrate the theme of reluctance.
“When I was growing up,” the Bishop said, turning to show the drawing to all parts of the church, “Popeye was a big name on TV and Popeye was asked to do important big things. And Popeye’s response was always the same: ‘I am what I am, and that’s all that I am’. So, don’t expect anything from Popeye. I’m just ordinary me.
“Now, Moses [in the Old Testament reading] is the same. When God asked him to do a big thing, Moses said, Lord you have the wrong person. You need to understand I’m no good. I’m frail. I’m weak. I’m not very strong. I can’t speak in public. I’ve no confidence. You have the wrong person. Popeye was the same.
“The interesting thing is, I’ve discovered – in life as well as in the Scriptures – that God likes to call reluctant people. He doesn’t seem to be so interested in the over-confident people who think they can do everything and that they have the answers to all the problems of the world.
“There’s a row of clergy along the front here and here, and I have an idea that if I went to them and I said when you first heard the call of God when your life was to be ordained, did you say ‘Lord it could not be me, it must be somebody else?’ I see a few heads nodding.
“That was my experience,” the Bishop said. “And God likes that. God actually likes it when we say, ‘God I don’t know if I’m up for this. I’m not sure I have what it takes.’ And God says ‘Aha. I’m going to call you.’”
Bishop Good said God was well aware of Moses’ shortcomings but pressed on. “God said to Moses, ‘Look, I know all about you. I made you. I know your weakness, your frailties. I know your inadequacies. I know all of your issues. They’re not a surprise to me. But I’m going to use you because I’m going to provide what you need.’ When God calls us to do something, he provides the resources within us to do it. He doesn’t expect us to do it on our own and in our own kind of strength. He said, ‘I am who I am and I will be with you Moses, every step of the way. You will not be alone. I will provide grace and strength and answers.’”
When God calls us, the Bishop said, he wanted us to bring whatever was in our hands. “You may have the ability to cook. You may have the ability to be a plumber. You may have the ability to be hospitable. You may have the ability to write. Whatever it is, God has given you a gift of something and he wants you to bring it when he calls us.
“Now, with 69 of you, there is a wealth of talent, and if all of that was made available for God to use this area would be unrecognisable. Moses has to bring a staff [in the Old Testament reading] and that staff turns out to be really important. He hit a rock with it and water came out of the rock. He did all sorts of things with that staff and Pharaoh got scared of the staff. So, we bring what we have in our hands.”
The Bishop assured the confirmands that when God calls us, he wants us to be part of a team. He never wants us to be solitary or alone. “I’d like to finish by saying to the 69 of you that confirmation is about responding to God’s call. I don’t know what God is going to call you to do, but I do know he’s going to call you to follow him, to take him seriously, to listen to him, to be open to what he wants you to do with your life and – if you allow him to do with your life what he wants to do – your life will be far more significant. So, don’t ignore him, don’t turn away from him, listen and respond and who knows what the story will be? In 40, 50, 60 years’ time you could have changed the world for a lot of people.”