Bishop of Connor’s Presidential Address

Wednesday October 18th 2017

Bishop Alan Abernethy delivers his Presidential Address.

In his Presidential Address to Synod, the Bishop of Connor the Rt Rev Alan Abernethy, spoke about his health shock, reorganisation of diocesan adminiatration, and the value of an inter-diocesan learning event he attended.

He also referred to developments in ordained ministry, his annual Lent Course, and urged people to remember Bishop Hilary and the people of Yei and South Sudan in their Prayers.

Bishop Alan’s full Presidential Address was as follows:

It was such a shock to me as I had been feeling very well and exercising every day, enjoying walking and cycling. I had been having tests since I fainted and broke my jaw in June 2015. The various tests since then had shown nothing untoward until this June.

Very quickly I had an angiogram which is a camera inserted in a vein in my wrist and it checks the arteries around the heart. This test showed that my main left coronary artery was 90per cent blocked. As I watched the screen a stent was fitted and my artery was flowing freely again.

I got home later that day and was told to rest for a few days. Since then I have been attending my cardiac classes and realise how fortunate I have been, in that a heart attack was avoided and I have not suffered any heart damage. 

There is much in the news about the health service but I am grateful for the care I was given and am still receiving. I wanted to tell you exactly what happened to make it very clear I am very well but there is no doubt when faced very clearly with my own mortality it has helped me refocus and rethink how I exercise ministry and my personal priorities.

This has been a very busy year as the restructuring took place in church house. It was a year that the staff will have found stressful as it was uncertain how things would work out.

On a very personal note I want to thank Ken Gibson who worked so hard to support both dioceses’ walk through this period of transition, I will always be very grateful to him for his support and help.

As bishop I am very grateful to the staff for their patience and their willingness to create a new team for Connor. The new team in the office of Richard Cotter, Audra Irvine, Elaine Wright and Rosemary Patterson are creating an office where there is laughter, mutual support and hard work.

On reception we have Helen Conville and Margaret Treanor who are part of Team Connor as they have Richard as their line manager.

It has been a joy to work with the team and I am very grateful for their patience with me and their loyalty and support for the work of the diocese. When I arrived as bishop Karen Bushby was already our diocesan communications officer Rosemary Patterson was a part-time secretary to the bishop, it is great that they have been able to support me through the various changes we have witnessed in the team, and be able to provide continuity.

There has been an enormous amount of work over the last five years to develop the development team which has been led by Trevor Douglas, to facilitate development across the diocese in areas of children’s and youth ministry, with the appointment of Jill Hamilton and Christina Baillie.

Since the establishment of the Centre of Mission there has been the addition of Karen Webb and Stephen Whitten as pioneer evangelists in partnership with Church Army. These team members have brought much energy and creativity in developing area of ministry in the diocese.

Trevor has managed to obtain funding and grants to help make much of this self-financing. With the restructuring of the administration and the expansion of the development team we have a very clear focus from all of the Connor staff on supporting mission and ministry across the diocese.

We are very well served as a diocese by Team Connor. I have always sought to practice the principle that ministry is team based and we are very blessed by the team.

One of the highlights for me during the last year was the twenty four hours I spent at a diocesan learning event. This was an inter-diocesan learning experience that included the Diocese of Tuam, Killala and Achonry and the Diocese of Dublin and Glendalough. This event was supported by the Priorities Fund and we are grateful for their support.

We were facilitated by Canon Phil Potter and the Rev Kerry Thorpe who bring a wealth experience of pioneer ministries and new models of church from around the Anglican world.

From different contexts and places within the Church of Ireland we were able to share our hopes and concerns surrounding the future of ministry and mission of the church we are all serve.

The clear focus was on the need to grow new communities of faith and enable parishes find new ways of engaging with those who have no church connection. This had a clear missional focus and as your bishop I am more and more convinced that we need to do traditional church well but we also need to grow new communities of faith that will be different to our inherited models of church.

In this context there are various terms that are used. To grow new communities of faith there will need to be people who are known as pioneer ministers whether ordained or not. There will be fresh expressions of church, a term I find unhelpful as it suggests others are stale. Yet there will need to be new communities of faith springing out of new expressions of church.

This is a subject I will be spending more time reflecting on and be seeking to share insights and thinking as it develops. This will be an important part of Trevor Douglas’s work for me and the diocese as it is clearly part of our future development.

There are also developments regarding ordained ministry that General Synod requested the bishops to find ways of implementing. O.L.M. or ordained local ministry was approved by General Synod and the House of Bishops have been busy putting plans together for selection, training and deployment. The plans are not yet finalised but it is hoped that by next spring there will be selection for this ministry held at diocesan level and training will begin in September 2018.

As someone who thoroughly enjoyed the privilege of parish ministry I also recognise the ever increasing demands amidst the difficulty in getting volunteers and helpers. I ask you to join with me in praying for more people to respond to the call ordained ministry.

We are having to find different ways of offering ministry in different contexts as parish structures in some areas are more difficult to sustain. This excites me but it will make us ask difficult questions such as:

  • Is the parish structure sustainable as we know it in parts of Belfast?
  • Do we have variety of part time and full time ordained and lay ministries?
  • How do we ensure the deployment of clergy?

The Lent Course last year was very well attended and I was delighted by the very positive response to one of the key issues facing planet earth and it is the very survival of the world that we are given as gift and of which we are called to be stewards.

One of the quotes that I came across when preparing the seminar was from Chris Wright in his book, “The Mission of God” and is as follows; “Any disciple can choose sustainable forms of energy where possible. They switch off unneeded appliances. They buy food, goods and services from companies with ethically sound environmental policies. They join conservation societies. They avoid over consumption and unnecessary waste and recycle as much as possible.”

This is something I believe we are called to do as part of our daily discipleship and we have to challenge those who say there is nothing we can do or even worse that there is no problem at all.

We continue to pray for our elected M.L.As that they will find a way of forming an administration so that decisions can be made regarding budgets and that we can have a functioning devolved government for Northern Ireland.

I commend Bishop Hilary of Yei Diocese to you for his courage and faith. During September he returned from the diocese’s temporary office in Arua, Uganda to support his people in Yei. He has written that “thousands of people are trapped in Yei, where over the summer clergy were attacked and killed.”

Please pray for the situation in South Sudan and particularly for Bishop Hilary, his clergy and people as they live in very dangerous and uncertain days. We will continue to keep you updated when we receive any news from him.

It is hard to believe that this is my eleventh year as your bishop and I am very grateful for your prayers, encouragement and friendship. There is no doubt it can be a very demanding role of oversight and leadership but I do count it a privilege to be your bishop.

To enable me to continue doing this for a few years yet I am planning to take a three month sabbatical next May, June and July when I want to write. I have always found writing a wonderful way to recover the joy of calling and to renew faith, energy and excitement in this calling.

There is a book slowly taking shape in my mind and heart and it is a book about Jesus for those who are not connected with church that fellow disciples might find helpful. Please pray for me as I seek to recharge and renew my own vocation and calling.

Thanks to all of you the clergy and people of this special diocese. My thanks again to the staff of Team Connor you bring much laughter and sanity into my life and work. A particular thanks to Mrs P who does not just look after my diary but rather looks after me with such care and loyal support.  

Thanks to the rural deans who help me by being there in the middle of the real day to day parish work particularly during sickness and vacancies. To the two Cathedral deans although one has just left Belfast to take up a new post in the Church of England. We will send him and Helen our greetings from today.

Thanks to Sam and the Chapter in Lisburn for Big Sing and their innovation and blessing to many. One of John’s legacies in St. Anne’s is the daily services and please note that we now have choral evensong in the Cathedral every day during term time except Saturdays. A great way to beat the traffic stress by leaving a little later and being more relaxed as you do. It is 5:30 on weekdays and 3:30 on Sundays.

To the three wise men, the archdeacons, their friendship and encouragement are great gifts.

Thanks to my family which is expanding, Liz, Peter and Roseanna, Ruth and Matthew and in January next we hope to be blessed with our first grandchild as Peter and Roseanna are expecting their first child. I think we are more excited than they are! My family are so special to me and I am so grateful for their endless love and support.

Above all thanks be to God who loves us beyond our understanding and who in Jesus walks with us always!!



Back to latest news

Site Directory