St Augustine’s Church in Londonderry was the venue, on Sunday afternoon (12th February 2023), for a Remembrance Service with a difference – one held to honour those who had been associated with renal services in any way.

The poignant service was organised by the Altnagelvin Renal Support Group and led by the Rector of St Augustine’s Church, Rev Nigel Cairns, who is the Church of Ireland Chaplain to Altnagelvin Hospital. The Rector was assisted by the Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev Andrew Forster; the Vicar General of the Diocese of Derry, Fr Michael Canny (representing the Bishop of Derry, Dr Donal McKeown); and Diocesan Reader Mr Sean McClafferty. Among those in the congregation was consultant surgeon, Mr Zola Mzimba, who is a Deputy Lieutenant for the Borough of County Londonderry, and who was accompanied by his daughter, Niamh.

The service sought to remember all those whose lives (or whose family’s lives) had been involved in some way with renal services, including those who had died because of renal failure; those who had died for some other reason and had donated organs, including kidneys, to give someone else a chance of a better life; and living donors who had donated a kidney to give someone else a chance of a better life.

The guest speaker at the service was transplant consultant, Dr Aisling Courtney, from Belfast City Hospital. Dr Courtney talked about the impact that transplantation had made in the lives of those who had received organs. “Kidney transplantation, as well as transplanting other organs, makes such a massive difference to people that really it’s hard to put into words. There are those of you here who have experienced that for yourselves in terms of the transformation of your health with transplantation.”

Dr Courtney said that every time she and her team “plumbed” a kidney in, they were conscious that it was a kidney that had come from somebody else as a gift. “Every time we give the gift of life to someone in transplantation – unless it’s given from a living donor kidney – it’s the tragedy of loss, and some of you here will feel that, and feel that keenly.”

The consultant wove a number of biblical references into her address, reminding the congregation of a verse in Revelations which talks about where we can go to with no more sorrow and no more death.

“I don‘t know if you’re aware,” Dr Courtney said, “but the Bible talks about transplantation, as well. There’s a verse in Ezekiel – Ezekiel 36:26 – where God says, ‘I will give you a new heart’. I will take out of you your stony heart, your hard heart, your diseased heart. And we all have bits in our heart that we hope nobody else knows, parts that we’re not proud of, parts that are sinful. But God says, you know what, I can do a heart transplant on you; I can take away the heart that’s diseased and I can give you a new heart.”

Music for this afternoon’s service was provided by the Altnagelvin Hospital Choir, under the direction of Dr Derek Collins, who accompanied the choir on the organ. Afterwards, the congregation enjoyed refreshments in the adjoining parish hall.