Congregation left stunned on being told of minister's death in diving accident
The congregation of the Presbyterian minister who died in a diving accident were stunned to be told of his death when they came to church on Sunday morning.
Rev Stewart Jones was killed while diving off the coast of Co Donegal on Saturday.
He will be buried in the parish he served for the past decade.
His family have been left shattered by his sudden death and are being comforted by friends as they finalise arrangements for his funeral.
Rev Jones (57) will be laid to rest after the funeral service tomorrow at 2pm, when his widow Patricia and three daughters – Anna, Rachel and Ester – will lead the congregation.
A fellow minister in the Presbyterian Church spent time with the family and later said they have been crushed by the sudden loss of a much-loved husband, father and grandfather.
Rev David Latimer added: "At times like this it can be a struggle to find the words of comfort and you witness a family deeply in grief.
"Stewart was such a healthy, happy and friendly man and his loss has left Patrica and the girls numb."
In the quiet village of Donemana it was clear from speaking to members of his congregation his presence among them will be sorely missed.
Tommy Allen, clerk of sessions at Rev Jones' church, told the Belfast Telegraph there was a stunned silence around the congregation at Sunday morning service when they were told of the tragedy.
He added: "Mrs Jones and the three girls are still in deep shock and trying to come to terms with what has happened, but she did tell me that the funeral service and burial will be here in Donemana.
"Rev Jones came here 10 years ago and the whole family quickly became an integral part of the village, so I suppose it makes sense that his final resting place will be among the congregation that had so much respect and affection for him.
"He threw himself into so many different aspects of the village with great energy, but that is how he did things, he really was full of beans.
"He took great delight in being a husband, father and more recently a grandfather, and while his loss has hit us in the congregation, of course it is his loss to his family that will be immeasurable.
"He has been our minister for the past 10 years and when Rev John Hanna, who came to take Sunday morning service and to break the sad news to those in the congregation who may not have heard already, people just sat in silence, really; they were just stunned.
The high esteem Rev Jones was held in by the congregation of 300 families was clear.
People from across the small Co Tyrone village were also keen to pay their own personal tributes.
Sally McGowan said: "I used to go to church regularly, then I took sick and couldn't go. But Rev Jones came to visit me at home and we prayed together.
"I was so sad when the wee girl who lives next door to me came in to tell me what happened. You feel it sore, he was a great man."
Tributes were also paid by the Catholic Bishop of Derry Donal McKeown.
He said: "It was with great sadness that I heard of the tragic death of Rev Dr Stewart Jones.
"I extend my sympathy to his wife, family and congregation.
"Rev Dr Jones was known to many people of all faiths and none in his role as a member of the chaplaincy team at Altnagelvin Hospital.
"Stewart was a valuable member of the team and his death will be a great loss.
"He was outgoing, with a great energy and zeal for life, as well as being very down to earth and approachable."