The Rev Canon Kevin Graham MBE DL reflects on New Year Honour

Friday January 12th 2024

The Rev Canon Kevin Graham MBE DL outside St Bartholomew’s Parish Church, Stranmillis, where he is rector.

The Rev Canon Kevin Graham MBE DL is looking forward to a visit to London later this year to receive his New Year Honour – but admits news of the award left him asking ‘Why me?’

Kevin, who is rector of St Batholomew’s Parish Church, Stranmillis, received the MBE for services to the Reserve Forces and to the community in Belfast.

A native of Strabane, Kevin is married to Cheryl and they have two sons. He has a Degree in Maths and Physics from NUI at Maynooth (College), and previously began training as a Roman Catholic priest and an Aer Lingus pilot (following neither option as a career) before working in the bank and later with the Police Authority of Northern Ireland.

He was ordained a curate in the Church of Ireland in 2002, serving in St Columba’s, Knock before becoming rector of Christ Church, Carrowdore, and St Patrick’s, Millisle; then rector of Movilla Abbey and in 2013 he moved to St Bartholomew’s.

He was Commissioned into the Royal Army Chaplains Department in 2005, serving first with 4/5 Royal Irish Rangers, which eventually became the 2nd Battalion Royal Irish Regiment, and with 204 Field Hospital based at Hydebank from 2012 until he stepped down from the Forces Chaplaincy in 2020.

“I went on training camps and manoeuvres in many places including the Brecon Beacons, Warminister, the USA, Cyprus, Gibraltar and Belgium,” he said.

“The role of the chaplain is spiritual and pastoral. We offer support to soldiers and their families, we aim to be a moral compass, offer training in values and standards, and we give advice to the Commanding Officers.”

He said the role was a vital one. “Sometimes soldiers, particularly if they come from a faith perspective, have issues about the right and wrong of killing people. The chaplain is someone they can talk to. These are enquiring young men and women, they may not be from a faith background, but they can talk to the chaplain. They may be awake in the middle of the night, defending the camp, and the chaplain is the one who has the time to sit and talk to them about life issues.”

Kevin says that whatever he may have done for others in his time as chaplain, he ‘received far more in return.’

In 2018, Kevin was appointed Rural Dean of South Belfast, and the following year was made Diocesan Director of Ordinands and installed as a Canon of Belfast Cathedral. He has served on Diocesan Council, the Diocesan Finance Committee and the Belfast Permanent Committee, and remains a member of General Synod.

In early 2023, Fionnuala Jay-O’Boyle DBE DStJ DDL, Lord Lieutenant for the County Borough of Belfast, asked him to join the team for the Belfast chaplaincy, and he was commissioned in July 2023.

Kevin said he had just popped over from St Bartholomew’s church hall to the Rectory to grab some milk on a Saturday morning last November when he discovered an envelope with ‘On His Majesty’s Service’ emblazoned on it. The letter revealed he had been nominated for an MBE.

“I read it three or four times, then remembered the milk and had to go back to my meeting and pretend nothing had happened,” he said.

“I felt both honoured and humbled. I had to think about accepting it because my initial thought was ‘Why me?’ I feel like I only did what I needed to do, but others obviously felt that what I did was over and beyond.

“I was humbled that people felt that what I did was worthy of an honour, both for the Reserve Forces and the community in Belfast. The medal says ‘For God and Empire’ – my focus is on God.

“Bishop Harold Miller [former Bishop of Down and Dromore] once said I had an instinctive ability to create community. I still think I was just doing what I was supposed to do.”

  • A full interview with the Rev Canon Kevin Graham MBE DL will appear in the February issue of the diocesan magazine Connor Connections.

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