The Archbishop of Armagh, Most Rev’d John McDowell, was in Raphoe on Tuesday evening (7th December, 2021) to preach at a Service of Choral Evensong in St Eunan’s Cathedral which celebrated the 1,500th anniversary of the birth of St Columba.
The Service, which was led by the Rural Dean for Raphoe, Rev Canon David Crooks, featured the Choir of St Columb’s Cathedral, Londonderry, accompanied by its Organist, Dr Derek Collins. The Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev Andrew Forster, also took part.
In his sermon, Archbishop McDowell said he was delighted to be in the cathedral for the first time. “We have learned, funnily enough in Covid,” he said, “when we weren’t allowed to come into church, we have learned just how important buildings are to us. We were complaining for years about them being a millstone around our necks but they’re very often the places where we first encountered the holiness of God, where we have had significant moments in our lives and in the formation of our faith, and we cherish them: there’s much more to them than simply stone and wood.”
The Archbishop disclosed a “connection” with the patron saint whose birth was being commemorated and with the church in which the service was taking place: Archbishop McDowell was ordained a deacon on St Columba’s Day and was consecrated Bishop on St Eunan’s Day.
The Primate chose “the great Celtic inheritance of our Church” as one of the themes for his sermon. He said the Jesus Christ whom we proclaim and Columba served was the greatest figure in human history. “It was because Columba and those like him had a faith in that greatness, and had faith in the faithfulness of God, that despite all the mistakes they made – despite the largeness, the grossness, of their sins; his temper; the people who died because of the arrogance that he had – it was because he knew that he owed Jesus Christ a debt he could never repay that he was the great apostle that he was, who spread and helped to spread the gospel on the continent of Europe.
“So, when we think of Columba, let’s not think of him as a quaint figure in a window; he was full of flesh and blood, and it was because of that – God used his weaknesses as much as his strengths, as He does with the best of His saints – we remember him, the great passion of his ministry and the example that he has left to us.”
Among those listening to the sermon in St Eunan’s were two of the four surviving crewmembers of a curragh which was rowed from Derry to Iona in 1963 to mark the 1,400th anniversary of St Columba’s voyage to the island. The pair posed for photographs with the Archbishop after the Service.