Organ Scholarship Board Service of Thanksgiving

Monday October 19th 2020

Clergy, board members and tutors who took part in the Down, Dromore and Connor Organ Scholarship Board Service of Thanksgiving.

A Service of Choral Evensong was held in St Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast, in thanksgiving for church and cathedral organists, church musicians and the work of the Down, Dromore and Connor Organ Scholarship Board.

The service took place on September 27. Each year, the Board invites applications for scholarships that are awarded annually. Due to Covid-19, there has been a delay in completing these awards this year as tutors have been unable to teach because of social distancing and because of restrictions placed on cathedrals and churches regarding opening hours has limited access to the pipe organs.

The scheme, which is in its 30th year, helps provide and equip organists for public worship. It was established in 1990 when an anonymous benefactor, recognising the importance of the ministry of music in parish life and worship, provided a very generous endowment to train organists in the dioceses. A Trust was set up and administered by the Church of Ireland Trustees and a Board of Management.


Those attending the service were welcomed by the Very Rev Stephen Forde, Dean of Belfast. Music was directed by Cathedral Organist Matthew Owens, assisted by Jack Wilson who accompanied the Cathedral Choir on the organ. Lessons were read by Board members, Lady Brenda Sheil and Gerald Hill.

Another Board member, the Rev Julie Bell, a Minor Canon of the Cathedral, delivered the sermon, and Chancellor John Auchmuty, Chairman of the Board, led prayers.

The preacher referred to an article she had read in a science publication about birds in San Francisco which started to sing differently in the silence of the pandemic shutdown.

She compared this to the times we are living in and expressed hope about what God can do in many ways, not least in the restoration of church music during the pandemic.

In his prayers, Chancellor Auchmuty gave thanks to God for the gift of music, and for the work and ministry of the organ scholarship tutors, Dr Joe McKee,  Michael McCracken and the Rev Dr Ian Mills. He also prayed for the scholars, their parents and families and the work of the Scholarship Board. He remembered with thankfulness and gratitude all those who had previously  served on the Board who had left a wonderful legacy behind. In conclusion, prayers were offered for all those who had been infected with coronavirus.


There are currently five scholars in the third year of training. Their tuition will be completed as soon as possible. They are Rebekah Wilson, All Saints’ Belfast; Callum Whiteside, St Mark’s, Ballysillan; Jane Knowles, Broomhedge; Victoria Irwin, St John’s, Whitehouse; and Amy Norris, Kilmore.

The second year pupils are Glen English , St John’s, Magherally; Jack McCabe,  Killinchy, Kilmood and Tullynakill; Sean Turner, Ballymoney, Finvoy and Rasharkin; and Tanya Zachara ,St Mark’s,  Dundela.

First year pupils are David Dunlop, All Saints’, Belfast and Clare Kelly, St Patrick’s, Jordanstown.

The new scholars are Larissa Fleck , St Patrick’s, Armoy; Mark McKinty and Hannah Shaw , both from St Cedma’s, Larne; and Grace Steed, St Mark’s, Dundela.

A year’s course consists of approximately 20 lessons, each of an hour’s duration, at fortnightly intervals. The scholars are expected to practise and prepare for each lesson.

When someone, regardless of age, has shown enough enthusiasm and talent for the church to want to invest some time, money, energy and expertise, it gives the Board an assurance that this type of scholar is almost universally positive, someone keen and willing to play for very little monetary reward, just being able to call themselves an organ scholar of their parish.

The Board said that as new doors are opening for the scholars, they must first and foremost recognise that God has given them a gift to preserve the rich cultural heritage of church music.

Report by Angela Kerr

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