Rector settles into sprawling parish
PASTOR Geoffrey Walmsley and his family are settling into their new home in Dundalk as he takes over as Church of Ireland rector for the sprawling Dundalk Union of Parishes, which includes Haynestown, Ballymascanlon, Bush, and Creggan.
The Kilkeel-born father of four comes here from Banbridge, where he was so highly regarded by his parishioners that around 150 of them travelled to Dundalk for the welcoming reception held in the Wellington Hall recently.
Having studied in Sheffield, Yorkshire for three years, his first appointment was Banbridge parish, where he served for nine years.
There he served 5,000 parishioners in a relatively compact area, while here the union of parishes stretches from as far south as Haynestown, encompassing the Cooley peninsula and crossing the border into Creggan.
'There's a lot of far-flung country lanes that I'll have to get to know,' he admits.
He is impressed by the beautiful churches including St Nicholas Parish Church, known locally as The Green Church, and St Mary's in Ballymascanlon, and points out that all the churches are extremely well cared for.
'The people look after them all and are loyal and proud of their churches,' he says.
'The congregation here is no different from elsewhere in that the older folk are staunch church goers while the challenge is to reach out and draw in the young families and teenagers and connect with them by making the Gospel relevant to them,' he says.
'I think North-South relationships are stronger now than they have been,' he says, pointing to the large number of people in the region who regularly cross the border to work, shop and socialise.
Having being involved in inter-denominational work in Banbridge, he is looking forward to meeting other church leaders in Dundalk and working alongside them.
He is also anxious in continuing the foundations set down by his predecessor Rev Sandra Pragnall in opening up the historical churches to the wider community.
'I am very much in favour of cross-community relations and of opening doors for different social events which cement relationships,' he says.
'Churches are meant to be a beacon in the community regardless of denomination. There's a quote "the church in the community for the community" and if you can do that, it's a plus.'
As he, his wife Christine, daughters Sarah, Grace and Chloe, son Thomas, and pets Alfie the dog, two cats and a guinea pig, settle into their new home, he notes that they are the first family to live in the rectory for some time.