Tribute to Canon Cyril Rolston

The following is an abridged version of the address of Archdeacon Andrew Forster at the funeral service of Canon Cyril Rolston in St Anne’s Church, Dungannon, Diocese of Armagh, on Sunday 10th September.

As we gather to give thanks for the life and ministry of Canon Cyril Rolston I know that he would want our focus to be on the Lord whom he served with such distinction and dedication throughout his life. The hallmark of Cyril's ministry was hope. Hope born out of a deep and resilient faith, it was not just some sort of ‘let’s hope so’ optimism, it was hope born out of truth and grounded in faith. It is in that hope, the hope of the gospel that we meet today, in the glorious light of resurrection that illuminates for us in vivid colour the hope of the gospel.

Cyril was a west of Ireland man, born in Ballina Co. Mayo in 1929 and brought up in the picturesque village of Dromore West that sits at the foot of the Ox Mountains overlooking the sea. The sea held a great fascination for the boy – a fascination that led to his enrolment in the Hibernian Marine School. The function of the school was to educate and train young men for a future in the merchant navy. In 1945 Cyril left school. In those post-war years it was challenging to find jobs at sea so he returned to Sligo and began a retail apprenticeship in Henry Lyons & Co. He would remain in the retail business for over 20 years. After a number of years in Dublin work, he went to Limerick where he worked as a buyer for Roches Stores.

Cyril met Doris in Dublin. Shortly before Doris’ death, just over eight years ago, they had celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. With the arrival of five children they had a very busy house! Cyril had been licensed as a lay reader and thoroughly enjoyed that ministry, leading services in different churches Sunday by Sunday.

It was in the late 1960s that he began to feel a strong call to ordination. Never a man to shrink from a challenge or shy away from a new adventure, he began his studies in what was then the Divinity Hostel in Dublin. It was a huge step of faith when he had a wife and four children to support, but Cyril, full of faith and hope, took that step, as ever supported by his beloved Doris.

It was in 1968 just at the outbreak of the Troubles that this southerner with his lovely west of Ireland brogue moved north to Portadown to begin his curacy in St Mark’s. His rector was Canon Tom McGonigle and much of the pattern of Cyril’s ministry was established in St Mark’s - hard work, faithful parochial visiting, compassion and care for the suffering, thoughtful preaching, dignified leading of worship; always seeking to point his parishioners closer to Christ and always sharing hope. Cyril would spend the rest of his ministry in the Diocese of Armagh, spending 10 happy years in Loughgilly and Clare before moving to Moy in 1981. As rector, he epitomised that characteristic of Church of Ireland ministry, the priority given to pastoral care. As well as parochial duties Cyril served for many years as Diocesan Director of Ordinands, encouraging vocations to ministry, and as chaplain to Craigavon Area Hospital. His dedicated service was acknowledged by Archbishop Eames in 1992 when he was appointed a Canon of St Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh.

Many of us gathered here today have been blessed by the richness of his ministry. G.K. Chesterton spoke of “the whirling adventure that is Christ”. Cyril saw faith and life as an adventure to be lived. He was an adventurous man - whether it was hiking in the mountains without map or compass, sea kayaking in New Zealand on his 69th birthday or, a year later, in Japan skiing for the first time! Cyril thoroughly enjoyed the great adventure of life and could see humour in most situations. In ministry and leadership one becomes known in the community and today we are giving thanks for Cyril’s public ministry that blessed the lives of many people.

But those who will feel Cyril’s lost most are those who knew him privately as a loving and good father to Lesley, Sandra, Trevor, Cherry and Michelle. Just a few weeks ago, here in St Anne’s the family were altogether for the celebration of his granddaughter Joanne’s wedding to David. Now as a family we are back in St Anne’s for very different circumstances, yet we meet with the same Lord whom Cyril served with such distinction, who is with us now and in our loss reminds us that “we have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” (Hebrews 6:19). As a young boy attending the Hibernian Marine School, Cyril learned the importance of an anchor. As a man he knew the importance of an “anchor for the soul, firm and secure”. Today we hold onto the anchor, we hold onto Christ and find in him strength for today and hope for tomorrow.