With outstretched arms, Rt Rev Ken Good lowered his crozier slowly onto the communion table in a Raphoe school on Thursday evening and his 17-year ministry as leader of his Diocese of Derry and Raphoe drew to an end. The Bishop had chosen the Royal and Prior Comprehensive School as the location for the Ascension Day Service of Holy Communion which brought the curtain down on his episcopacy.
The Roman Catholic Bishop of Raphoe, Most Rev Dr Alan McGuckian, the Methodist minister, Rev Richard Johnston, and Rev Dr Brian Brown of the Derry and Donegal Presbytery joined serving and retired clergy, and diocesan readers, from the Diocese of Derry and Raphoe at Thursday evening’s service, which took place in a huge marquee in the school grounds.
The sizeable congregation included hundreds of friends of Bishop Ken and Mary Good from across the Derry and Raphoe dioceses, as well as people from Lurgan, Wicklow, Cork and even further afield.
The preacher, Rt Rev Ken Clarke, is Bishop Good’s brother-in-law. He described it as “an incredible honour” to share in a very important night for the Good family and for the Diocese of Derry and Raphoe.
Referring to the first reading, Acts: 1:4-11, the preacher said he believed the question asked of the disciples – ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky?’ – was as relevant today as it was two thousand years ago.
“Why do you stand here looking into the sky?,” Bishop Clarke repeated, “You’re not called to be stargazers. You’re sent out to be witnesses. Get on with the job. Don’t be standing here indulging in idle gazing. There’s a job to be done, there’s a world to be won. That’s his vision for the Church, for this Diocese, for every parish here.”
Bishop Clarke said the Diocese of Derry and Raphoe had been encouraged to catch that vision under Bishop Good’ and his wife Mary’s leadership. “Is it not expressed in what you adopted as a Diocese – and you know these words off by heart, I’m sure you dream about them at night – ‘Radiating Christ, Transforming Community’? Isn’t that what the rest of the Church of Ireland knows this Diocese is all about: transforming communities, radiating Christ.”
The Preacher thanked God for a Bishop and his wife who had caught the vision that the ascended Christ shared with his disciples. “You know as well as I do,” Bishop Clarke said, “that for 17 years Ken and Mary have not only shared this vision but sought to live it out. You have come to know some of Bishop Ken Good’s great strengths. This will be no surprise to the people of this Diocese when I tell you that one of his strengths is clarity of vision. Another of his strengths is beginning something and completing it. Another of his strengths is to run faithfully and finish well.
“Who does that remind you of? It reminds me of Jesus. The Ascension speaks of all of those things. The Ascension is the completion of a task. The Ascension is the completion of a job well done and now Christ returns to heaven having completed his work on earth. The Son of Man was sent to save, to reach out, to love the lost, to give his life as a ransom for many and that’s exactly what he did.”
“The big question, friends, is this: if Christ is ascended, who carries out the vision now? Who carries out his mission and shares the Good News? Well, he gives us the answer, doesn’t he? He leaves a team – his disciples. Have you ever heard the word ‘team’ in the Diocese of Derry and Raphoe? Have you discovered that’s been one of the recurring themes of Bishop Ken’s ministry – not just vision, not just sharing good news, but thinking ‘team’?”
Bishop Clarke drew attention to the ‘We seek growth, we serve in teams, we encourage leaders’ strapline on the Diocesan website, immediately below the vision statement, ‘Transforming Community, Radiating Christ’.
“What a vision for any Church,” he said. “This is the vision of the ascended Christ. God has gifted Bishop Ken and Mary in living out this vision among you for the past 17 years. I know that after our Service tonight, some farewell gifts will be given to the Bishop and his wife. Do you know the best farewell gift you can give them (they haven’t asked me to say this, by the way)? Do you know the best farewell gift we can give them? Keep on keeping on. Be committed to this vision and live it out. Radiate Christ wherever we are, 24-7. Transform communities. Never side-line the vision of the ascended Christ, the vision the Goods have shared with us.”
Bishop Clarke said one of the biggest challenges facing the Church today was the need to “come down from our ecclesiastical and parochial mountains, leave our narrow cultural pedestals and win the world for Christ”. He urged the congregation to radiate Christ wherever they were and to make a difference in the lives of other people – their families, their neighbours, in their places of work, wherever they were, transforming communities and building the Kingdom of God. “I get excited about this vision,” he said, “and that is the task of every diocese in the world, of every church in the world, of every parish. We need more of the Father Heart of God. We need to weep as he weeps over those who are not yet reached with the Good News of Jesus.
“Do you know that in this marquee this evening the potential in the life of every Christian here is indescribably exciting?” the Preacher continued. “There is potential in each one of us and the vision of Bishop Ken and Mary is that that potential will be released and unleashed into the Ireland of today and wherever God leads us.” Bishop Clarke told those present that he had never known such openness and opportunity and honesty as there was in Ireland today. “Traditional walls are in ruins,” he said. “Nominalism is nearly dead. Cover-up – wherever it is – is rightly challenged. The one who is the way – not a way; the one who is the truth – not fake news; the one who is the life – not a poor substitute for life, was crucified, raised from the dead, and is alive, risen, ascended, glorified, and is present in every place, and he is waiting to be found and waiting to be followed.
“His invitation is to all: ‘Follow me.’ And the challenge on all of us who claim to be Christians is to stop looking aimlessly, whether it’s upwards or downwards or inwards. But we are called to live passionately, purposefully and radiate Christ, whatever age we are, wherever we are, and have the joy of seeing lives transformed.”
Bishop Clarke spoke to the congregation about what he called “the challenge” of the Ascension. “Jesus Christ gave himself away,” the Bishop said, “what about us? Am I living purposefully and passionately for Christ, making the most of the time? Have I caught his vision? Am I moving in his call in my life? Am I running faithfully, living obediently, giving generously, determined to finish well? Am I committed to living a life which is all about giving, serving God, serving others, laying down my life for Christ and his Good News – the Gospel.
“Wonderful people of Derry and Raphoe Diocese, for 17 years you’ve had a Bishop and his wife who’ve modelled that kind of living: humble, faithful, steady service. Bishop Ken praying for you in the early hours of the morning; grasping relational nettles in the Diocese for the sake of the Gospel; peace-making in the Church and in the community; Mary, his wife, extending warm hospitality in many, many times of entertaining in See House; Mary on her hands and knees, weeding and working in the walled garden which we have all loved and appreciated; Mary travelling miles, serving in and with the Mothers’ Union. Time is given and time is taken away, and the least we can do is make the most of every day. And we are given and we are taken away; the best we can do is give ourselves away.
“In this Service of Holy Communion, we thank God from the bottom of our hearts for the Son of God, the ascended Christ, who loved us and gave himself for us; and rightly, we also thank God, especially tonight, for two of his followers, Bishop Ken and Mary Good, who have given of themselves in this Diocese, not keeping their lives but losing them in giving them away. Friends, that’s what you and I are called to do and called to be: to give our lives to him; to live our lives for him; and to live like him. Why do we stand here looking into the sky when we have the high call and the high privilege of living lives that are all about giving away?”
Mrs Mary Good took part in the Service, delivering the first reading – the Ascension Reading – from Acts 1:4-11. The Gospel was read by the Dean of Raphoe, Very Rev Arthur Barrett, who also co-ordinated Thursday’s service.
Prayers of thanksgiving for the Goods’ ministry were read by the Archbishop’s Commissary, Ven Robert Miller, and the Archdeacon of Raphoe, Ven David Huss. The Prayers of the People were read by Elaine Sproule and Whitby McClay. Music for the occasion was provided by the Mark Ferguson Band, Rev Peter Ferguson, and Derry and Raphoe Mothers’ Union’s choir (accompanied by Rev Canon Paul Hoey).
There was a poignant moment near the end of the service when Bishop Good stood before the congregation, holding his crozier horizontally, and lowered it slowly onto the communion table, symbolizing the ending of his episcopal ministry.
After the Service, a superb supper was served in an adjoining marquee before well-wishers returned for the presentation of gifts. These included significant donations to the Goods’ nominated charities, International Justice Mission – which campaigns to end slavery – and the mental health charity Aware.