Prayers were said at a Service of Ordination in Omagh, on Friday evening, in memory of The Late Queen Elizabeth II. The Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev Andrew Forster, said at the start of the double Ordination Service, in St Columba’s Church, that it was appropriate to begin with a moment in reflection and in prayer for the late sovereign.
The Service of Ordination for two new priests for the Diocese, Rev Alexander Chisnall and Rev Johnny Lowden, had been months in the planning, but the death of The Late Queen, the previous day, required a change to the order of service, Bishop Forster felt.
“I know all of us feel a great sadness at the loss of such a distinguished monarch and a special person,” the Bishop said. “Her life has been a blessing to all of us. Her life has been marked by a deep sense of duty and devotion, empowered and fuelled by her love for God and her devout Christian faith.
“We feel a sadness,” Bishop Andrew said, “in that, I’m sure none of us really met her – we might have seen her, we never met her – but she’s been part of our lives. But that sadness is matched by a huge sense of thankfulness, thankfulness for Her Late Majesty’s goodness, for all that she has been in that constant presence in our nation – the nation’s lives, and right across the Commonwealth and the world – for the way she has been a constant who has helped us through changing times and challenging times. And this evening, as we give thanks for her long life, and commend her into the hands of God whom she served with such distinction, so we also pray for the King and the Royal Family.”
It had been over 70 years, the Bishop said, since they had used the phrase, ‘God save the King,’ and sung the national anthem as ‘God save the King’. “That’s what we do now, as we pray for the King and for the Royal Family.” The Bishop invited the congregation to stand and join him in a rousing rendition of the anthem.
The two men who were priested are Rev Johnny Lowden, who was born in Bangor but grew up in Downpatrick, and Rev Alexander Chisnall, from Killiney in South Dublin. Their respective wives, Emily and Hannah, were in church, along with relatives and friends, to see their husbands being ordained.
The sermon was preached by the Director of the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, Rev Canon Dr Maurice Elliott. He began by saying how delighted those present were for Rev Lowden and Rev Chisnall on this very special occasion which, in its own way, was both an ending and a beginning. “In the eyes of the Church,” the preacher told them, “from this evening, you’re no longer to be simply a deacon intern, but you will be both a deacon, still, and a priest.”
Canon Elliott said that in the second reading, in the Ordination Service, 2 Timothy 4:1-8, St Paul spoke powerfully and poignantly about those two ideas of ending and beginning. “He does so, interestingly, with reference to ministry. He does so by way of giving a charge, an order, a command, an imperative to his young protégé. And the essence of what he’s saying to Timothy is from the beginning you need to aim to end well.” In the reading, the preacher said, the apostle Paul – while imprisoned, just prior to his execution – writes his very own epitaph: ‘I’ve fought the good fight. I’ve finished the race. I’ve kept the faith. And because of that, now there is in store for me a crown of righteousness which the Lord will award to me on that day.’ Paul, you see, has finished well, but Timothy, on the other hand, is just getting under way.”
Dr Elliott suggested three pieces of advice which he thought came to us from the apostle. First, if you, too, are going to finish well, Paul says always remember that there is a judgement to come. The judgement seat of Christ was, the preacher said, the ultimate end point. And for those who had placed their trust in Jesus Christ, that was not something of which to be frightened. “Far from it,” Dr Elliott said. “The reason why Paul invokes the theme of judgement here is precisely in order that Timothy will be motivated – motivated to do everything that he can in order to make as many people as possible ready.”
The second piece of advice from the apostle was to always prioritise the centrality of preaching. “Paul continues, look with me at the text: ‘I give you this charge: Preach the word.’ It’s very striking what he doesn’t say about the nature of ministry. He doesn’t say be a moralist and tell people to live better lives; he doesn’t say be a miracle worker and try to impress others with your ability; he doesn’t say be a worship leader, a justice fighter, a liberator or an empathiser. All of those may have their rightful place within the totality of ordained ministry but none of them is top of the list.
“If the two of you have not yet realised it,” Dr Elliott said, “I guarantee, perhaps even this next week, you will quickly realise how many pressures are going to come against your time, and for all who serve in ordained ministry one of the biggest challenges is simply to keep the main thing to be the main thing. And Paul says, ‘Preach the Word’. Proclaim the good news of grace, of forgiveness, of hope, of everlasting life. Do that when it is convenient, in season, but do it also when perhaps things may be said against it, out of season. Do it when you gather in church from pulpits, but do it also when you sit beside someone’s hospital bed or on a sofa in their home.”
Finishing well, the preacher said, bears in mind the judgment to come, prioritises the centrality of preaching and is always willing to bear a cross. “You will have many joys, you will enjoy many privileges, but Johnny and Alexander, remember there’ll be no shortage of hardship, challenge and sheer disappointment, perhaps all the more so as we continue to come out of this season of global pandemic.”
The ordination service was led by Bishop Andrew, assisted by the rector of Drumragh with Mountfield, Rev Graham Hare. The Archdeacons of Derry and Raphoe, Ven Robert Miller and Ven David Huss, also took part. The readings were delivered by the two new priests’ wives, Mrs Hannah Chisnall and Mrs Emily Lowden. The Gospel was read by the Director of Ordinands, Rev Canon Robert Boyd. The Bishop’s Chaplain was Rev Carmen Hayes.
After the service, the new priests, their wives, families and friends, and the participating clergy crossed the road to the church hall for an excellent supper prepared by parishioners.