The Church of Ireland Bishop of Connor, the Rt Rev Alan Abernethy, urged people to take time to ‘be’ rather than always ‘do’ when he addressed a packed annual Synod.
The Bishop based his address on the words from Psalm 46 Verse 10 ‘Be still and know that I am God.’
Connor Diocesan Synod took place in St Brigid’s Parish Church, Mallusk, on Wednesday, June 17. It was attended by around 300 clergy and lay members from parishes across the diocese.
In a wide-ranging address, Bishop Abernethy referred to the frenetic activity of life, to the current economic instability, and to the need for Christian traditions to pray together. He remembered the murders at Massarene Barracks earlier this year, and paid tribute to Bishop Noel Treanor, the new Catholic Bishop of Down and Connor.
The Bishop also reiterated his words of condemnation of the attacks on Romanian families living in south Belfast, urging people to ‘reject such activity and thinking.’ His statement was met with applause.
Referring to the words from Psalm 46, Bishop Abernethy said: “As I reflect upon the busyness of living in our society and culture I find this verse a challenge and yet an encouragement.”
He went on: “So much of our life together is about doing… I want to ask the question as to how we can find ways as individuals and as communities of faith to learn how to be rather than always be doing? To find ways of listening, being silent and of discerning the presence of God always with us.”
The Bishop said he believed present culture needed to be challenged in a busy lifestyle that is often about achievement, power and the importance of the individual. “There is a questioning of authority, disillusionment with church and political life, anger at the way many people have lost their savings and their pensions, and understandable fear about what is ahead for us all in terms of employment, housing and income,” he said.
“What is our message in the midst of the chaos and what have we to offer? I do not believe it is endless sermons or papers but rather an ability to somehow find a quiet centre in the middle of the chaos. We find ways of being a place of refuge and loving acceptance for all. We need to learn more of what it is to be rather than always be doing, to be the presence of Christ in the chaos.”
The Bishop applied his thoughts to the Mission Statement of the Church of Ireland Bishops which the Diocese of Connor is seeking to implement, under the three words, Growth Unity and Service.
The concept of growth, he said, can often be taken to simply mean more people joining parishes. “However I also believe that a critical part of our life together is about learning more of what it is to be quiet and still to enable us to discern God’s presence in the confusion of our society. We need to be communities of faith that aren’t so busy doing things that we have no quality of life for others as they come into our community.”
Bishop Abernethy went on: “We must ensure that one of the priorities in parish life is to make disciples and to nurture faith and an enriching spirituality.”
Referring to unity, he said: “I believe it is critical we find ways of praying together, that we can share with each other the riches of our own heritage in Christ.
“It is often as we pray together, as we are still together that we can find new insights into our own journey of faith from other fellow travellers. This unity of spirit is so much more important than a false structural unity.”
Speaking of his friendship with Bishop Treanor, Bishop Abernethy said: “It has been a blessing to have been able to express our concerns and prayers for this community from the context of our friendship in Christ.
“This was particularly important when we witnessed the awful scenes at Massarene Barracks earlier this year. To be able to be a presence together for peace and against violence and hatred was more important than just words.”
In relation to service, the Bishop said: “In the being and listening we might be better able to find ways of re-connecting with the many communities we appear disconnected from.”
The Bishop also spoke of the Diocese’s research into children’s ministry. He said: “I am more than ever convinced at the critical importance of our ministry not to but with children as they such a gift to us as God’s people.”
And he revealed that to date Connor had raised £72,000 for a new school in Mongo in Connor’s link diocese of Yei, Southern Sudan. “The partnership with the diocese of Yei has produced a genuine care and love for the needs of the people there,” Bishop Alan said.
Concluding his address, the Bishop said a special thanks to St Brigid’s for hosting Synod for the second successive year. Parishioners are coming to terms with the recent death of Sandra Boyce, wife of the rector the Rev Bill Boyce. Bishop Abernethy urged Synod to join him in assuring Mr Boyce of love and prayers in his grief.
Reports of Diocesan Council and various boards and committees were all accepted and two Notices of Motion were passed unanimously. The first proposed that the Commissioned Lay Ministry Scheme, which has now ended as a pilot project, should be reviewed by Diocesan Council and brought to Synod 2010 with a proposal for continuation or otherwise of the ministry.
The second motion proposed changes to Connor Council for Mission to ensure that, in the word of proposer Archdeacon Stephen Forde, “mission is part of the overall life and witness of this diocese.”
On conclusion of the business, the Very Rev John Bond, Dean of Connor, thanked Bishop Alan. “This diocese values your ministry, friendship, sincerity and leadership,” the Dean said.
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