Cleric was ‘best friend of parish’

Rev David Somerville sets off in his Land Rover on the Ballyward Parish Church Vintage Road Run in aid of Southern Area Hospice Services
Rev David Somerville sets off in his Land Rover on the Ballyward Parish Church Vintage Road Run in aid of Southern Area Hospice Services

A Church of Ireland clergyman arrived in Richhill several years ago as a stranger and died last week as “best friend” to the parish, it was said yesterday.

Over 700 people turned out yesterday for the funeral of Rev David Somerville who had been serving in St Matthew’s Church of Ireland in Richhill, where his funeral took place.

The popular father-of-three died suddenly on Saturday morning, having packed careers as a teacher, a police officer and a cleric into his 57 years.

He is survived by two children from his first marriage, Ian and Sarah, and another son, Dan, from his second marriage to May in 2005.

“It was an absolutely massive crowd, there must have been over 100 clergy there,” said Rev Willie Nixon, rector from St Patrick’s Parish Church at Drumbeg, who preached the funeral sermon.

Both the church and the church hall were full to capacity with dozens of mourners left standing outside.

“He was my best man and I was his,” Rev Nixon told the News Letter, describing how he had lost a very close friend.

Rev Somerville had previously told loved ones that his funeral message should focus on three things: “The cross, the resurrection and the second coming of Christ,” Rev Nixon said.

“I reminded the congregation that we have a great hope because Christ has died, therefore our sins are dealt with; Christ has risen, therefore death is defeated and our hope for heaven is that Christ will come again to take us there.”

He said that Rev Somerville came to faith as a young boy at a children’s meeting in Knocknamuckley.

He was a Boys Brigade officer for many years, only resigning at 38 due to other responsibilities.

He also served 20 years as an RUC Reservist and later went on to serve 17 years as a teacher at Rathfriland High School.

Rev Somerville was ordained as a deacon in Lisburn in 2000, was priested in 2001, was installed as rector in Rathfriland in 2003 where he served for ten years, and was then made rector at Richhill in 2013.

“People of that parish are just devastated,” Rev Nixon said. “One elderly man came up to me today and said: ‘He came to us as a stranger two-and-a-half-years ago and leaves us as our best friend.’”

The cleric added: “When he came into a room you could have not have missed him.

“He knew about pain and he knew how to journey with people in pain.

“That is why he was such a good pastor – that was where his true gifting lay.”

Ulster and Ireland rugby captain Rory Best has paid a heartfelt tribute to Rev Somerville.

He tweeted on Sunday of the cleric’s sudden death: “Hugely saddened by the loss of one of the nicest men I’ve ever met. Will be truly missed by all he had contact with.”

In December the high profile rugby player tweeted a colourful photograph from Rev Somerville’s church, showing dozens of illuminated Christmas trees.

“Congratulations to all involved in the St Matthews Church, Richhill Christmas tree festival this weekend!” said the former British and Irish Lions captain.