There was a mood of celebration and tremendous thankfulness in Derg Parish Church
on Thursday evening as Rev Claire Henderson was ordained priest by the Bishop of
Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev Andrew Forster. The new curate has battled against serious
illness in the three years since she was ordained deacon, including two spells in
intensive care. Bishop Andrew said to Rev Henderson, “After what you’ve been through
these last number of years, Claire, this was just the work of God’s spirit that you were
brought to these parishes [of Derg and Termonamongan]. I really think God’s hand was
The new priest served her most of her diaconate under the guidance of the Rector of the
Derg Group of Parishes, Rev Peter Ferguson, who preached the sermon at the Service
of Ordination. The new curate’s parents, George and Jean, sat beside her in the front
pew, along with her brother, David, who delivered the first reading.
In his sermon, the Rector recounted his great admiration for the famous polar explorer,
Sir Ernest Shackleton, whose 1914 expedition on the ship Endurance was, he said,
regarded as the greatest example of survival in history. “If the words ‘endurance’ and
‘survival’ could be applied to anyone I have the privilege to know,” Rev Ferguson said, “it
would be to Claire.”
Thursday evening’s service was more than an ordination, the Preacher said. “It’s a
celebration of life and grateful thanks to God for His grace. It is remarkable that we stand
with Claire here today. Praise be to the Lord.”
Rev Henderson’s experience had prompted Rev Ferguson to choose a passage from
Hebrews 12:1-12 for the first reading. “I keep thinking of these words when I think of
Claire,” he said. “‘Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of
witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.
And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.’
“I love these verses. They remind us that as Christians we are in Jesus’s team. We don’t
live the Christian life or run the Christian race alone, and we see evidence of that this
evening all around. We have a great cloud of witnesses. We are part of Jesus’s family
and team from all over the world and all over the ages who cheer each other on. And so,
Claire, hear those words: keep going, don’t give up, persevere.
“I’m sure Claire can testify to so many who have heard and prayed for her over the
years. I think of her parents. Without their love and Christian example, would we be here
today? And I think of so many who have cheered Claire on in recent years, in her home
parish, in our rural deanery, in the diocese and beyond.
“Run the race with perseverance. In 2020, in ‘lock-down’, Claire was ordained deacon
and after a short spell in Raphoe joined us in Derg and Killeter, at a time when we were
recording services online. Claire you don’t like taking the easy approach, do you, at all?”
That was borne out by Rev Henderson’s bouts of serious illness (which resulted in her
admitted to ICU on two occasions). “I remember Claire sending me messages from ICU
about parish ministry and ideas that she had. I said, ‘Claire, you’re in ICU; would you
rest for goodness sake?’”
The preacher spoke, too, about “the amazing places and people” Jesus leads us to when we are on His team. “Reverend Claire, just think of it: from being a long-term patient in the S.W.A.H. to visiting others in that very ward – encouraging patients and staff alike – with a totally unique insight; to standing in this pulpit and other pulpits with a message to share; leading bible studies and leading sessions on mental health; developing a new outreach ministry in our parish group for seniors called ‘JOY’ – Just Older Youth (and yes Claire came up with that title and I think it’s a great one, ‘JOY’, Just Older Youth. What an adventure and Claire, the adventure continues.
“As Claire embarks on this significant step, may we embark upon it with her. Jesus isn’t
finished with us yet and he never will be, so we keep going, we keep running with our
eyes fixed on him. The adventure continues for Claire and the adventure continues for
Rev Ferguson said he was excited about the next step in his curate’s “adventure with
God” and what it would mean for the clergy team, the parish group, the rural deanery
and the diocese as she entered into part-time stipendiary curacy.
The Rector and the Bishop were joined by two Archdeacons for Thursday’s service,
Venerable Robert Miller (Archdeacon of Derry) and Venerable David Huss (Archdeacon
of Raphoe). Rev Carmen Hayes was the Bishop’s Curate for the occasion. Clergy from
both dioceses attended the service and took part in the ‘laying on of hands’. Music for
the service was provided by the Derg Parish Group organist, Gordon Speer.
Afterwards, the congregation moved to the nearby parish youth hall for refreshments
and speeches. The new curate said: “Most of you’ll know this has been quite the journey
for me. I was ordained at the height of Covid in 2020 and I was meant to be in Raphoe
but Dean Arthur [Barrett] moved on and I was reassigned to Peter.”
Rev Henderson thanked her rector for his leadership and support. During her three
years as Deacon, she said, she had spent a long time in hospital but knew the whole
time that the parishes were praying for her. “That kept me strong, and they’re still
praying for me and that’s what keeps me going”. She was excited now to see what the
future held for her as curate in Derg and Termonamongan.
Bishop Andrew also thanked the Rector for the training he had been providing for Rev
Henderson, and expressed gratitude, too, to the parishioners of St John’s and St
Bestius’ Churches. “What you’ve found in Derg and Termonamongan,” he told Rev
Henderson, “are warm-hearted, big-hearted, loving-hearted people who have taken you
to their hearts, and cared for you and have been blessed by you as you seek to be a
blessing to them.”
The Bishop recalled how inspirational Claire had been during her spells in hospital.
“When Claire was in hospital – it was Covid times, and we couldn’t [visit] – and I used to
phone her up, knowing she was really ill, and yet she was cheerful, she was positive,
she was prayerful, she was faith-filled. It was really humbling for me.
“So, Claire, we just delight, tonight. At times we wondered was this going to happen,
were you going to be able to take the next step in ministry? And the Lord has provided
the way and we bless His holy name for that and give Him the glory in what He’s been
doing in your life and what He continues to do in the life of these great parishes.”