The Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, Most Rev John McDowell, has paid tribute to Castlerock parishioners – past and present – for first of all building and subsequently maintaining their parish church, which has been belatedly celebrating its 150th anniversary, this weekend.

The Archbishop preached the sermon during a Service of Morning Prayer, on the third and final day of the ‘Lord, for the Years’ Flower Festival, which has attracted hundreds of visitors to Christ Church Castlerock over this weekend.

More than 2,000 flowers were used by floral designers Alan Beatty and James Burnside to transform the church’s interior. The festival was project managed by Castlerock parishioner Evelyn Conn, with all proceeds going towards church funds.

Castlerock Rector, Rev Chris MacBruithin, told the congregation, this morning, that the Covid pandemic had forced the parish to postpone its celebrations. Thanking the Archbishop for his visit, Rev MacBruithin said the Primate’s presence was an indication of the significance of the anniversary.

In his sermon, Archbishop McDowell reflected on the first reading – from Genesis 28: 10-17 – which recounts Jacob’s dream at Bethel. The Archbishop thanked the congregation for maintaining a church that was obviously so very close to their hearts. “We discovered this during Covid,” he said, “when we had to close them, that buildings are very close to people’s hearts, that they’re a place where we encounter the holiness of God, a bit like old Jacob, lying on a stone near Beersheba, not realising it until afterwards that surely this place is the gate of Heaven, surely this place is the house of God.”

The Archbishop said people often talked about God’s mercy and love and glory, but not half often enough about God’s beauty. “Those people who designed this church and those churches of the 1830s and beyond had one word in their mind more than any other – more even than beauty – and that was glory: churches were meant to reflect the glory of God, so that the glory of God might be in the land; and that’s what you and I are here for, so that the glory of God can be seen in Castlerock. That is the purpose of a church – to reflect the glory of God and the face of Jesus Christ in the place where they are. And that glory isn’t cold or aloof; that glory isn’t superior; that glory has love in it; therefore, it has a redemptive power which all that cold, stand-offish holiness never has or had.”

Archbishop McDowell said his hope and prayer on the 150th anniversary of Christ Church was that for the remainder of its existence, its parishioners would continue to make a difference to one another and also to the community in which they were set, and that they would reflect the glory of God and the face of Jesus Christ.”