The first of two diocesan Lenten seminars on prayer under the overall title of 'Equipping the Saints,' led by the Bishop of Connor, the Rt Revd Alan Abernethy, was held in Belfast Castle on February 5.
The bishop said that he was “staggered and hugely encouraged” by the larger than expected number which came together – more than 130 – for the first session, necessitating the event moving to a larger room in the Castle. He added that “support, fellowship and prayer” were central to his vision of the diocese in the years ahead.
In the first part of the evening, Bishop Abernethy led participants in what he described as a “general meandering” through the subject of prayer, with “five coat hangers” on which to hang five key words:
• Mystery: Especially applicable to times of prayer when it was difficult to understand what was happening. Speaking personally, the bishop said that in his prayers God was “close to me, but very far away, because he is God” – that was the mystery beyond comprehension.
• Struggle: The bishop said that many had a “rucksack of guilt” on their shoulders in their prayer life, believing that prayer was such hard work.
• Personality: This, Bishop Abernethy said, “profoundly affects how we pray”; an introvert might prefer quietness and silence, an extrovert “loud, charismatic buzz”. We must learn to be ourselves before God.
• Relationship: God longs for a relationship with the people he has created; hence, the importance of public worship and corporate and individual prayer.
• Image: One's image and understanding of God, the bishop believed, “will profoundly affect how we pray”, adding that his own ideal image of God was reflected in the parable of the Prodigal Son, or, as he preferred to call it, the parable of the Loving Father.
After a break for light refreshments, the bishop used the second part of the evening to reflect on two Gospel chapters: Matthew 6 and 11. He stressed that for him prayer was, above all, “not doing, but being”, being oneself before God “who is always with us, even when we doubt and scream, and who loves us more than we can ever imagine”.
The seminars continue thoughout February and March. Seminar one asks the following questions. How would you describe God? What is prayer? Why pray? It will also help us reflect upon our journey in prayer.
Additional sessions will take place in the Comfort Inn, Antrim, on Monday February 11 and the Royal Court Hotel, Portrush, on Tuesday February 19.
Seminar two is a more practical session looking at liturgical prayer, signs and symbols for prayer, journaling, silence and meditation. Sessions will be held in Belfast Castle on Monday February 25, the Comfort Inn, Antrim, on Tuesday March 4 and the Royal Court Hotel, Portrush, on Monday March 10.
All seminars take place from 7.30pm-9.30pm.
Thanks to the Rev Clifford Skillen for the report on the Bishop’s opening seminar.