The Bishop of Connor has called upon people within his diocese to speak up for refugees, not only in prayer but by working together with other churches in their parishes and lobbying politicians.
Matthew’s Gospel is clear in saying that if we refuse to help those in need we are refusing to help Jesus, the Rt Rev Alan Abernethy told the annual diocesan synod which met today in Carrickfergus.
“The refugee crisis has been brought to our attention every day in the pictures and stories of people escaping conflict and persecution,” Bishop Abernethy said.
“One of the marks of the church is meant to be of hospitality, of incarnating the presence of Jesus in the chaos and pain of the world.”
The church needs to respond to the call of the gospel, to be there for those in need, the Bishop said. “As individuals we can pray daily for governments, aid agencies, refugees and all volunteers. As parish communities we can open our church doors for prayer vigils when communities can pray together.”
He continued: “As this crisis deepens there is going to be the need for housing. It is important that refugees are given somewhere they can call their own for a period as they settle and not just to lodge in other people’s homes.”
The Bishop urged people to write to MLAs and MPs. “I am not aiming to discuss the political and social issues but concerned to help those in obvious need, especially vulnerable children,” he said.
“We need to encourage our elected representatives to find ways of acting to help those in need and not to ignore the crisis, but to ensure that there is a concerted and clear response to this crisis that will help those in need. They have a responsibility in leadership to facilitate and help.”
The Bishop also encouraged parishes to donate to the Bishops’ Appeal which will support refugee aid agencies.
Referring to the current political crisis at Stormont, Bishop Abernethy told the 300 synod members present: “We desperately need to pray for fresh thinking and for leadership that can help us all move forward as we deal with the past, a past we cannot ignore.
“There is so much unresolved anger and frustration across communities that need to find ways of expressing these deep seated emotions. Please continue to pray for all who lead for wisdom, grace and courage.”
In his address Bishop Abernethy also looked at mission and ministry, and expressed thanks to his staff, clergy who are retiring and his family.
Full Presidential Address by the Bishop of Connor – September 23 2015
It has always makes me feel uncomfortable, disturbed and challenged. I am sure it is not a coincidence that St. Matthew places it near the end of the gospel narrative. This discomfort catches me unexpectedly at different times; when I meet the Big Issue seller, or the homeless person looking money or the obvious drug or alcohol addict. It is not possible for me to walk away and excuse my indifference because of this passage haunting me. This is one of those parables that cannot be explained away we are left in no doubt that if we refuse to help those in need we are refusing to help Jesus.
The refugee crisis has been brought to our attention everyday and the pictures and stories of people escaping conflict and persecution. One of the marks of the church is meant to be at of hospitality of incarnating the presence of Jesus in the chaos and pain of the world. The Church is made up of local communities of hospitality, that recognise we have received the mercy and hospitality of God in Christ. We seek to serve the one who with Mary and Joseph flees cruelty and persecution as they became refugees. This is a moment in which I believe we have to find ways of responding to the call of the parable to be there for those in need. Let me offer a few suggestions but I am sure in each and every parish you can discuss how you best can respond. In fact all the main churches are seeking to find ways to work together as those who will welcome the stranger.
As individuals we can pray daily for governments, aid agencies, refugees and all volunteers.
As parish communities we can open our church doors for prayer vigils when communities can pray together.
This can be done on deanery or local churches coming together, we need to provide opportunities for people to pray together.
As this crisis deepens there is going to be the need for housing. It is important that refugees are given somewhere they can call their own for a period as they settle and not just to lodge in other people’s homes.
Writing to local councillors, MLAs and MPs
This is a subject that has drawn a strong response from the general public. I am not aiming to discuss the political and social issues but concerned to help those in obvious need, especially vulnerable children. My response is based upon the parable that leaves me in no doubt that we are called to help those in need. We need to encourage our elected representatives to find ways of acting to help those in need and not to ignore the crisis but to ensure that there is a concerted and clear response to this crisis that will help those in need. They have a responsibility in leadership to facilitate and help.
There are many ways to give through various agencies and I would encourage you to consider using our own Bishops Appeal which is seeking to use any monies they receive to help those who are in desperate need. This can be done directly or through parishes. Lydia Monds is here today from Bishop’s Appeal and can assist you.
Watch this Space.
This is a crisis that will be with us for some time and there is much thought been given at central church and by churches acting together so I will keep you informed of any further plans that may yet emerge where we can help alleviate the needs of others. If you have any ideas please do tell me as we should help each other fulfil our Lord’s command to help those in need.
Some words of Jurgen Moltmann: “With every righteous action, we prepare the way for the new earth on which righteousness will dwell. And bringing justice to those who suffer violence means the light of God’s future to them.”
Yet again we as a country are facing uncertainty as issues from the past still haunt us and the threat of elections create instability. I do not envy politicians their job and yet as always we find it difficult to think beyond our own community and think of a genuinely shared future. We desperately need to pray for fresh thinking and for leadership that can help us all move forward as we deal with the past, a past we cannot ignore. There is so much unresolved anger and frustration across communities that need to find ways of expressing these deep seated emotions. Please continue to pray for all who lead for wisdom, grace and courage.
It was with sadness that we were unable to travel to Yei earlier this year, I was not content to ask others to travel when the situation on the ground was still so volatile. Please pray for Bishop Hilary, the clergy and people of Yei as they continue to live with the threat of violence and political uncertainty. There are tentative plans for a trip in 2017 for special celebrations in Yei and we will be able to be more certain as the situation improves.
Mission and Ministry.
As I reflect on our diocesan vision strategy it is very clear that the most challenging and demanding facet of it is effecting change. In our lifetime the speed of change has been rapid. The political landscape, the social composition,the economic potential and the technological revolution have all made the mission and ministry of the church more demanding and difficult. There still is the hope and expectation that the church is the one place where things can stay the same. This is not the case and indeed is at times an unhelpful expectation. Our message has not changed but how we can connect with a rapidly changing culture and society demands of us a willingness to examine new ways of being and doing church. This is particularly difficult because there is no template to follow.
One of the gifts we have been given is to have a church building in so many communities throughout the country, we are strategically place at the heart of so many communities. For decades the local church was the centre of so much of community life and I experienced this as a child growing up in Belfast. This community life is very different with a greater spirit of independence, busyness, population exodus from the city and a growing disenchantment with church. Across the diocese there are many good examples of parishes trying to find new ways of engaging with people in the local community. This is difficult to measure and will not necessarily be measured by more people attending church.
The ministry of Jesus is a constant challenge as he by the incarnation came and lived among the pain, confusion and struggle of our humanness but He didn’t fix it but blest it by his presence. The kingdom is among us but we live in the not yet of what is to come. I increasingly believe that our biggest challenge in every parish is for us to get our hands dirty and to find ways of blessing people in their pain. This calls us to leave the church building and bring church into the community as well as being a place of welcome and hope for those who come to church. The Diocesan centre of mission will seek to model this ministry of being with people in their mess and bringing Jesus to them by building relationships and supporting local churches in their ministry and mission.
Ministry is something we are all called to and this is something we have been seeking to encourage and affirm. There is still the temptation to assume that is the clergy who do the ministry and this expectation can be crushing and debilitating. I am concerned about the expectations upon the clergy and the loneliness that many clergy can experience. No matter how much they do it is never enough. We have to find new ways of reimagining ministry in parishes and I increasingly believe that we have to look at ways of developing team ministry where teams of ordained and non ordained can minister together along with all of us who are baptised and seek to follow Jesus. Within this context I also believe we will have to examine forms of self sustaining ministry. We will also have to develop what we have started in our centre of mission and that is pioneer ministries that can find ways of connecting with those who have no connection with God or church. This will lead to new communities of faith of people who have little or no experience of church. This will hopefully involve exciting discussions about what constitutes church.
Thanks to the staff in the diocesan office who have to serve two dioceses and indeed two bishops, as if one wasn’t bad enough. The work during this past year in helping all parishes register for the charities commission has been greatly appreciated. To June and the team our thanks and we also pray for David Cromie as he is still on sick leave.
I also want to thank the team who I work closely with in Rosemary, Trevor, Jill, karen Bushby and newly arrived Stephen, Karen Webb and Christina. They bring loyalty, energy, passion and hard work as they seek to serve al of us in our ministries in parishes and beyond. There is also the three wise men, although anyone who agrees to be an archdeacon may not be that wise! To Stephen, Stephen and George my thanks.
There are also some special thanks today.
To Robert or Bob Kay as he has served as lay diocesan secretary for 30 years! A Connor record I am informed.
Also to Dean John Bond who has announced his retirement from parochial ministry from next January. His exemplary and faithful ministry in Connor is exceptional. Ordained in 1967 and has served all his ministry in this diocese, 48 years.
Canon Stuart Lloyd retires from parish ministry at the end of October and we thank him for his faithful ministry in the diocese and nor least for 26 years in Ballymena one of the largest parishes in the Church of Ireland.
The Rev John Bach retires from the chaplaincy in Coleraine University next week the end is September after 42 years as chaplain the longest serving university chaplain in the Anglican Communion.
It is a joy to be your bishop and I am very grateful for the love, prayers and support you offer me. We are a team together and we need the support and prayers of one another.
Then finally to my family that is increasing with in-laws. We had a very special summer as both our children got married and a fractured jaw in the middle of the fun. They are such a gift and I am forever grateful for their love and support. We have struggled to work out what is different in our relationship with our children and it is that we re no longer their net of kin!
Many years ago something stirred deep in my spirit that I tried to ignore and run away from but the call only grew stronger and led me to some unexpected, joyful and difficult places in ministry? However I am very grateful for all the encouragement I have received on that journey and above all my thanks to the one who called me and how He always walked with me on the journey.
My thanks to God Father Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.