The Bishop-elect of Derry and Raphoe, Ven. Andrew Forster, says every single one of us has a role to play in building peace and building up our community. His comments came during his first public interview since his election as Bishop Ken Good’s successor.
Bishop-elect Forster told BBC Radio Foyle that his priorities as a church leader were to see God’s Kingdom grow and to see healthy churches serving their communities. “If anything’s happened over the last few decades,” he said, “we’ve seen the fibre of community breaking down and people becoming a lot more isolated and lonely. If the Church lives out what it means to be a community of Christ, I think it can be such a positive and helpful part of the wider community. So, I want to see really vibrant, growing, blessed churches.”
The new Bishop said Brexit was a massive issue which ought to concern all of us. “What we’re seeing in the uncertainty that we’re in now is there’s a complete vacuum, where we’re unsure of where we’re going. The political leadership that we’re getting is completely fractured on this. Whenever that happens – and whenever there’s a sort of ‘limbo-land’ – we know that unfortunately people can take advantage of that for all the wrong reasons.”
Bishop-elect Forster said the murder of Belfast journalist Lyra McKee in Londonderry last Easter showed that there were “very shadowy, dark and evil forces” that were prepared to bring pain and destruction back onto our streets and that wanted to take advantage of the political vacuum that we were in now. “There are huge challenges,” he said, “that’s why it’s incumbent on all of us to work to build up our community. Peace is a very fragile thing. We have to really nourish peace, we have to care for it, we have to encourage it to grow. It doesn’t do it by itself. Peace needs to be nurtured and cherished and allowed to grow.
“As a church leader, that’s a hugely important role for me, but it’s actually a role for every single one of us that we take the opportunity – as we’re told – to love our neighbours and to love our enemies and to try and see that peace nourished and grown because it can be so easily broken.
“We’ve come through terrible times of division,” Bishop-elect Forster told listeners, “when society has been fractured, when communities have been driven apart and I am fearful that Brexit can do that again.” He said it was incumbent on community leaders and church leaders and political leadership to try and bring people together rather than push them apart and polarise society.
The Bishop-elect said it was hard to imagine that anyone here would like to see a ‘no-deal’ exit from the European Union or a hard border being introduced but, if these things happened, the churches would have to deal with the consequences. “We need to be prayerful,” he said, “we need to be prayerful for our leaders and we also need to live out a good example of what it means to be in positive relationships with people rather than building up barriers between us.”
Bishop-elect Forster said he was looking forward to coming to Derry and Raphoe as Bishop. There was a gifted clergy team and really committed laity in the Diocese, he said, and another of his priorities was to serve them and help them live out the calling God gave us to be transforming communities.