In his Presidential Address to Diocesan Synod the Bishop of Connor, the Rt Rev Alan Abernethy said he prayed that this Saturday’s parade, part of the north Belfast Agreement signed last weekend, would ‘be something that helps us move to a better tomorrow.’
The Bishop told Synod, held in Carrickfergus Methodist Centre on Wednesday September 28, that within our local community there is still ‘a real difficulty in dealing with the past.’
So often the past can hinder us from moving forward, Bishop Abernethy said.
“I do believe that the legacy of the past is something we cannot avoid as we seek to build a better future. It will need courage, grace and wisdom but we must find ways of living with the past that can honour all and recognise deep and unresolved pain.”
He said news of the resolution regarding the impasse at Twadell Avenue in north Belfast was an important moment for one local community and referred to the statement issued by himself and Roman Catholic Bishop of Down and Connor, the Most Rev Noel Treanor, commending those who had worked tirelessly behind the scenes to bring this situation to a resolution.
“We do pray that this Saturday will be something that helps us move to a better tomorrow. Please pray for all who strive towards peace and a shared future in the area,” the Bishop said.
He spoke about many parishes in the diocese had faced change in the past year. “I am increasingly convinced that groups and unions are not the way forward in terms of reshaping parish life, we need to find new models of ministry and parish,” the Bishop said.
“The issue that concerns me most is the isolation and loneliness that can be the lot of parish clergy. I do want to find ways of making parish ministry something that can be done as team with limited resources.”
Bishop Abernethy also referred to restructuring of the administration of the two dioceses of Down and Dromore and Connor, which he said had been difficult for staff, the staff committee representing the joint committee and the bishops.
“The outcome will be that by early next year each diocese will have its own administrative structure and staff, working directly to the diocesan bishop,” Bishop Abernethy said. “Change is never easy but I do believe this will help us as a diocese as we look to the future.”
He said it was exciting to see Connor’s diocesan Centre of Mission established with the opening of Base Connect in Shankill Road. “This will be a great asset to the local churches but also in time to the wider diocese as we develop new ways of connecting with people and local communities who have little or no church connection,” the Bishop said. “This can become a resource for equipping, training and modelling for us in mission today.”
He added: “I am convinced that alongside traditional church we need to find ways of connecting with people who are not going to come to church and we have to be willing to take risks to do so.”
The Bishop expressed sadness that he will be unable to travel to Connor’s link diocese in Yel in South Sudan in January. Bishop Hilary and his wife Mama Joyce have had a very difficult number of months, he said. He added that he had heard only that morning that they had had to leave Yei and move to Arua due to the deteriorating situation in Yei. “The violence is raging and yet again human life has been lost and communities devastated. Please pray for this country as it seeks to find a better future from some tragic and painful hurts of the past that keep coming back to destroy hope and peace.”
Bishop Abernethy said his experience as a member of the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches had been challenging and had been a helpful perspective on our own situation. “I hear stories of Pacific islands disappearing because of the change in sea levels, stories of awful humanitarian crisis in Syria, the continuing violence in Palestine and the tragic accounts of how children have been caught up in situations of violence and war,” he said. “I find myself struggling with the reality of human suffering and how we have much to do as the people of God to work and pray for peace.”
The Bishop thanked clergy, lay members and all present at Synod for their prayers and encouragement, he thanked staff and his family, and paid tribute to Canon Edgar Turner, Connor’s long serving registrar who died in April aged 96.
The full content of Bishop Abernethy’s Presidential Address to Synod 2016 can be downloaded here.