Retirement of the Dean of Belfast

Tuesday April 5th 2011

The Very Rev Dr Houston McKelvey who retired at the end of March.The full time stipendiary ministry of the Very Rev Dr Houston McKelvey, OBE, as Dean of Belfast ended on Thursday March 31.

He has been Dean since June 2001 and is well known as the city’s Black Santa, faithfully keeping up a fundraising tradition that began in 1976.

Dean McKelvey was ordained in 1967 and served in two suburban parishes. For 19 years prior to becoming Dean, he was adviser on education policy in Northern Ireland to the Church of Ireland General Synod Board. He currently serves on the Belfast local education authority and on the boards of governors of schools in socially deprived Roman Catholic and Protestant areas.

A former Territorial Army Chaplain with 29 years service to the Ulster and Scottish Gunners, Dean McKelvey was the first chaplain to be awarded the Queen’s Volunteer Reserve Medal, presented by Her Majesty The Queen.

He is a former member of the Police Authority for Northern Ireland, and serves as a county chaplain for scouts. The Dean is also known as writer and local broadcaster, he is a former editor of The Church of Ireland Gazette.

In January 2010 he was awarded an OBE in the Queen's New Year's Honours list for services to community.

Dean McKelvey was educated at Muckamore Primary School, the Royal Belfast Academical Institution; The Queen's University in Belfast from which he has a primary honours degree in geography and a Masters in Education; Trinity College, Dublin – theology; and a Doctor of Ministry degree from the Methodist seminary at North-Western University, Evanston, Illinois.

In December 2010 he took part in his 10th, and last, annual sit-out for charities with members of the Cathedral Chapter.

The so-called Black Santa sit-out has raised millions of pounds for different charities over the years, and the Dean said it "demonstrates the charitable nature of the overwhelming majority of people in this part of Ireland."

He continued: ""The experience is breath-taking both physically and spiritually. Charity is indeed the greatest of the Christian and human virtues," he said.

During his time as Dean of Belfast, the Spire of Hope was erected, the positions of ecumenical canons were established and the partnership with St Peter's Cathedral strengthened.

On his last day at St Anne’s, the Dean took part in two special events. The first, at 11am, was a cheque presentation to Christian Aid for the victims of the Japanese earthquake. This donation of £10,000 brought the total donated via the Cathedral’s Barrel of Hope for Japan to £22,000. 

The Dean said: “Once again I wish to express my gratitude to the people of this community for their generosity to others who have been affected by natural disaster. The scale of damage to humanity and infra-structure in Japan is truly difficult to comprehend. I know from the church contacts there that the donations made through the cathedral by people of all faiths and none, is desperately needed.”

At a special service at 3pm on the 31st, the Dean received the ensign from HMS Caroline which was lowered for the last time that afternoon on the historic ship. HMS Caroline was the Naval Reserve base in Belfast Harbour until recently.

Present and former members of the ship’s company attended a short service during which the Dean, who is one of only three Honorary Chaplains to the RN Reserve, received the ensign into the safekeeping of the Cathedral.

Paying tribute to Dean McKelvey on his retirement, the Archdeacon of Connor, the Ven Dr Stephen McBride said: “The ministry of the Very Rev Dr Houston McKelvey is notable for the wide range of key activities in which he has been involved in the life of the Church.

“The Dean has contributed with energy and drive across many areas of Church life and beyond, in the fields of education, communication and ecumenism. He has always shown a robust approach to life and a capacity for getting across his views in a forthright manner, a characteristic of many larger-than-life Instonians.

“Throughout his ministry he has been ably supported and complemented by his wife Roberta, who through her Mothers’ Union role has also contributed much on the national and international stages”

The Archdeacon continued: “As a chaplain in the Territorial Army, the Dean was the first reserve forces chaplain to be awarded the Queen’s Volunteer Reserve Medal in 2000 and his service to the community was recognised with the award of the OBE in 2010.  

“I wish Houston many years of happy retirement.”



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