Bishop Harold laid down his pastoral staff and knelt before the communion table in Down Cathedral as his 22 and a half–year ministry as Bishop of Down and Dromore draws to a close.
The symbolic and moving act came during a service to mark Bishop Harold’s retirement on 30 September 2019 and was witnessed by the hundreds of friends and colleagues who filled Down Cathedral.
They represented all aspects of Bishop Harold’s ministry which began with his ordination in 1976 and took him to Belfast, Nottingham and Cork before he was elected Bishop of Down and Dromore in 1997.
Invited guests included clergy and representatives from every parish in the diocese and leaders from the major denominations and parachurch organisations as well as politicians and figures from the media and business.
The service was a celebration of faith and ministry and, looking to the future, Bishop Harold invited three young leaders to share the address. Mark Wells, Revd Emma Carson and John McGrath preached in turn and issued a challenge and encouragement to the church based on 1 Timothy 4: 12–16.
Bishop Harold chose the liturgy and music for the occasion and led the service along with the Cathedral Choir and organist, members of New Irish Arts and the monks from Holy Cross Abbey in Rostrevor.
The bishop also dedicated a new brass Cross which is suspended above the communion table at the east end of the Cathedral. The life–sized figure of Christ on the cross is depicted as a reversed silhouette through which the east window may still be seen. In recent years Down Cathedral was re–ordered on a model of ‘pilgrimage’ and the new cross represents the final destination on the journey.
An offering was lifted for the Christian relief and development charity, Tearfund, with whom Bishop Harold has been closely associated since the 1960s. He is currently a member of the board of Tearfund UK.
After the service, supper was served in a marquee in the cathedral grounds and guests were also treated to a ‘This is Your Life’ presentation hosted by the BBC’s Mark Simpson.
Mark looked back over the Bishop’s life and ministry with the help of photos, video messages and guests who shared anecdotes and paid tribute to the love, friendship and ministry of Bishop Harold and his wife Liz.
At the end of the evening Bishop Harold and Liz were presented with a gift from the diocese and the bishop, in keeping with tradition, presented the diocese with his portrait which will hang in the See House. Bishop Harold commissioned the oil painting from his artist son, Kevin – the first portrait in the See House to have such a family connection.
Kevin and his sister Ciara unveiled the painting and were joined at the front by the rest of the family: daughter Laura and husband David, son Niall, Kevin’s wife Julie and Ciara’s new husband, Clark. Bishop Harold recounted how difficult the move from Cork to Belfast had been for his children and thanked them for their support over the years.
The bishop will lay down his staff in the second of the Diocesan Cathedrals, Dromore, during morning worship on Sunday 22 September.