At the start of Synod 2010, Bishop Alan welcomed some special guests, the Reverend William Sinclair, Minister in 1st Ballymena Presbyterian Church, the Reverend Jan Mullan of the Moravian Church, and Father Pat Delargy from the Roman Catholic church.
Two notices of motion were unanimously agreed. The First was proposed by Diocesan Lay Secretary, Robert Kay, Agherton Parish, and seconded by the Ven Barry Dodds, Archdeacon of Belfast. It read:
“That this Synod approves the revised Diocesan Regulations, including the Proceedings and Standing Orders of the Diocesan Synod and the Diocesan Glebe Regulations, and that such revised Regulations will come into effect from 10 September 2010.”
Thanking Diocesan Secretary Mrs June Butler and her staff for their work, Mr Kay said the proposal was aimed at removing outdated phraseology from the regulations and including amendments made over the past 20 years.
The second motion related the Commissioned Lay Ministry scheme which had been piloted in the diocese, and was proposed by the Ven Stephen Forde, Archdeacon of Dalriada. It read:
a/ Notes that the experimental period approved for the introduction of a Commissioned Lay Ministry in the Diocese has concluded.
b/ Acknowledges that, following a resolution on Diocesan Synod 2009, the Diocesan Council has carried out an in-depth review of the ministry which was reported to Diocesan Council on 4th February 2010.
c/ Recommends to the Diocesan Synod of 2010 that Commissioned Lay Ministry is adopted as an approved lay ministry of the Diocese of Connor in accordance with the guidelines described in the ‘Commissioned Lay Ministry Scheme – Guidelines 2010.’
d/ Requests that the Commissioned Lay Ministry Scheme is reviewed by the Diocesan Training Council no later than every five years from the passing of this motion.”
Archdeacon Forde’s submission in support of the proposal can be viewed in full here.
Archdeacon Forde said the consultation process on Commissioned Ministry, requested by last year’s Diocesan Synod, had been one of the most wide ranging consultation exercises conducted by this diocese for some time, and ensured the vast majority of parishes were represented in the review process. At rural deanery meetings, the operation of Commissioned Ministry within a local parish was described, and at each meeting, Mr Peter Hamill, Diocesan Training Co-ordinator, and Co-ordinator of Training for the Commissioned Ministry scheme, was able to answer questions. He also took notes of the key issues raised.
This resulted in a comprehensive report to Diocesan Council, representing of a wide range of opinion across the diocese, the Archdeacon said.
“It is as a result of this extensive consultation that the Guidelines have been revised. One of the most obvious changes has been to the name of the scheme. For complex technical reasons under the Church of Ireland Constitution, the scheme will now be called “Commissioned Lay Ministry”, and those who participate under the scheme will be referred to as “Commissioned Lay-Ministers,” Archdeacon Forde told Synod.
He outlined five key elements which were identified and incorporated into the new Guidelines and explained that the Review Document was adopted by Diocesan Council in February to be presented to Synod.
Archdeacon Forde concluded: “I believe Commissioned Lay Ministry provides a scheme for this diocese, where lay members of parishes can offer their gifts and talents to the service of their church in a way which is both acknowledged and supported by the diocese as a whole.
“The scheme may suit many parishes at a particular point of their development in ministry, but it may not be appropriate for all. However, after being piloted for five years, this is a robust scheme, with first class support provided by the Training Council, and it comes highly recommended by those parishes which have already made use of the pilot scheme.”
Seconding the report, Miss Mavis Gibbons, Lambeg Parish, said: “It was a real privilege to work with parishes, rectors and particularly those who offered themselves for Commissioned Ministry.”
The Rev John Bach, Chaplain, University of Ulster, said he supported the scheme which he said recognised the gifts of people in congregations but sounded a warning that it could cause a rift between lay people. “I don’t want anybody who does not feel called to committee or pastoral work to feel like they are second class citizens,” he said.
Responding, Archdeacon Forde said the comments highlighted an aspect the review group had explored, but stressed there was no intention that there should be first and second class lay people, but that commissioned lay ministry may be something parishes might find useful at a particular time.
Standing Orders were suspended during Synod for four presentations. In the first, Diocesan Secretary June Butler outlined a new scheme for managing human resources. A company named Business HR will be working with both Connor and Down and Dromore dioceses for the next three years. Mrs Butler outlined resources available to parishes and training which will be offered.
Mr Richard Ryan, acting manager of the Good Book Shop, appealed to all present at Synod to support the business and outlined several ways parishes could do this. He urged Sunday Schools to come to the Good Book Shop for their resources and said items could be sent by post or by Ulsterbus. Parishes were also asked to consider having a book stall in the church from which they could sell books for the Good Book Shop, earning commission in the form of money off for their efforts.
Finally, Mr Ryan asked parishes to pray for the Good Book Shop. “We are a Christian ministry, a light at that end of Donegall Street, and we don’t want that light to go out,” he said. “We are a shop filled with books but we are also a God filled shop.”
Bishop Alan described the Good Book Shop as ‘an excellent resource’ and said it was sad the shop was not used as it should be.
A third presentation was made by Mr Peter Hamill, Connor diocesan training co-ordinator, who launched Connor’s Review of Children’s Ministry. Outlining the mechanisms of the survey and its results, Mr Hamill said: “We have to stop calling this children’s work and call it children’s ministry. It is a ministry of our church.”
Kathleen Rodgers and Moira Thom (President) from Connor MU also addressed Synod, speaking about some of the projects that specifically benefit children in Connor Diocese. Mrs Rodgers described Connor’s parenting programme as the most successful in Ireland, and said some of the ideas had been taken up in England. The programme continued to be delivered through extended schools and other groups, but the take-up within the Church of Ireland had been discouraging. The MU distributed a package to Synod members outlining their various programmes, including the parenting programme. “Take a look in the package and find out more about running a group within your own parish,” Mrs Rodgers said.
Mrs Thom spoke of a new initiative, the Away From It All Holiday project which invited rectors to nominate a family from their parish who deserved a free holiday. Mrs Thom said no parishes had taken up this opportunity but they had been approached directly by a family, whose eldest child was 12, who thanks to the MU had enjoyed their first ever family holiday.
Mrs Thom urged rectors to get in touch if they knew of a family who, for whatever reason, needed a break and stressed that all communications would be in confidence.
The Report of Diocesan Council was proposed by Mr JS Briggs and seconded by the Rev Mercia Malcolm.
As the reports were reviewed for matters arising, the Rev Adrian Dorrian of Connor Youth Council, took the opportunity to remind Synod of the various Energize events planned for young people in the coming weeks and months. Archdeacon Stephen McBride of the Age-Ability Committee reminded members of the half day conference taking place on October 20 in the Dunadry Hotel, Templepatrick on the topic of Alzheimer’s. The conference is open to both clergy and lay people.
Archdeacon Stephen Forde, chair of Connor Council for Mission, made reference to two trips to Connor’s partner diocese of Yei in Southern Sudan. The first took place in January, and involved Archdeacon Forde, Connor Communications Officer Karen Bushby, and Diocesan Accountant David Cromie, while the second involved a 12-strong META team and took place in July. During this trip the team participated in a number of activities including clergy and teacher training, but Archdeacon Forde said the highlight was the opening of Mongo School by former CMSI Director Canon Cecil Wilson.
“On the foot of the one school this diocese built (Archdeacon Forde referred to the list of donations to Mongo school carried in the report) funding came through to build six schools in the Diocese of Yei,” he said. Speaking of the current political situation in Yei and the fears that a referendum taking place in January could lead to a return to civil war, the Archdeacon urged Synod members to be as informed as they could on the situation in Sudan, and if possible to raise the issue with anyone they knew of influence.
“The last civil war in Southern Sudan was a forgotten war and so many were killed. But they have rebuilt their country with tremendous enthusiasm and it would be a tragedy if Southern Sudan falls back into civil war,” he said.
“As I left Yei Airstrip in July I thought of all the people who had been so generous to us and who had allowed us to participate in their lives. Will they still be here this time next year?” he asked.
At the request of Bishop Alan, Synod agreed to send its prayers to Bishop Hilary [of Yei] and the Diocese of Yei.
Reacting to the Diocesan Schedule of Assessments in the Council Report, Mr Victor Cole from Cloughfern, queried where parishes were going to get the money from. “Some people seem to think this is Jesus on the cheap,” he said. “I have become very cynlical about what people give each week.” And he warned: “If we can’t get our act together some of our parishes or churches won’t be here in 10-15 years.”
The Diocesan Council Report and all other reports were carried. At close, the Very Rev John Bond, Dean of Connor, thanked Bishop Alan for ‘getting us through the business and deliberations with care and efficiency,’ and expressed the delight of everyone in the diocese that the Bishop was well recovered from his illness and surgery and ‘back in the harness.’