Around 300 clergy and lay people from Connor Diocese came together in Carrickfergus Methodist Centre on Wednesday October 18 for the annual Connor Diocesan Synod.
The business of Synod was preceded by a Service of Holy Communion in St Nicholas Parish Church at 2pm.
In his Presidential Address, the Bishop of Connor, the Rt Rev Alan Abernethy, who earlier this year had a stent inserted in a blocked artery, spoke candidly about his health scare. He said he realized how fortunate he was not to have had a heart attack and to have suffered no 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,” Bishop Abernethy said. He stressed that he is now very well, adding: “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.”
The Bishop said he would be taking a three month sabbatical next year during which he proposed 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,” he said. “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.”
In his address, Bishop Abernethy also spoke about the re-organisation of diocesan administration, and the value of an inter-diocesan learning event he attended. He 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 the Prayers.
During the afternoon session, Synod heard communications from General Synod, the report of Diocesan Council and associated Notices of Motion and reports of boards and committees. These were all passed.
Bishop Abernethy expressed thanks to the Rev Dr David Clements, Carrickfergus Methodist Church, for providing a venue for Connor Synod for the past four years.
He also presented a gift to Mr Jim Tweedie who is retiring as Honorary Lay Secretary. Mr Tweedie has been a member of Connor Synod for 55 years, General Synod for 48 years, and a member of Diocesan Council for nearly 30 years.
The Bishop also expressed gratitude to Mr John Wallace who has chaired the Connor Finance Committee for many years. The chair now passes to Bishop Abernethy.
As part of the re-organisation of the Diocese, Connor no longer has a Diocesan Secretary. Mr Richard Cotter was appointed Finance and Administration Manager, and he spoke to Synod about his experience and about his new role. He joined Bishop Abernethy in paying tribute to the team based at Church House.
Diocesan Development Officer Trevor Douglas spoke about the Centre of Mission Connect Base in Shankill Road. Mr Douglas said many projects had been initiated across the diocese and he thanked the various funding bodies, including Church of Ireland Priorities Fund and the Children’s and Orphans Fund, who had made this possible.
Diocesan Youth Officer Christina Baillie gave a presentation on youth activities including the new Youth Forum, Summer Madness, Streetreach and a weekend residential in Castlewellan. She said many young people were learning to be disciples and learning to lead others, but stressed that there are also young people struggling with mental health issues. “I would love to see our young people managing their own emotional well-being through a greater understanding of God, and to see our churches becoming a sanctuary for young people,” Christina said.
Mr Roy Totten spoke to Synod about the Church of Ireland Priorities Fund.
Before business was suspended for an evening meal, Lay Secretary Ken Gibson, expressed thanks to Bishop Abernethy on behalf of Lay members. “We appreciate that the work of one of the biggest dioceses in the Church of Ireland is a big task and we thank you for all that you do for us,” Mr Gibson said.
The Rev Alan McCann, on behalf of clergy, thanked the Bishop for his ‘open door policy.’ “We thank you for your support, prayers, and phone calls, not about work but about ourselves,” he said.
After an excellent meal provided by St Nicholas Parish and served in the parish hall, Synod resumed with an interview session with representatives of Ballymoney and Glenavy Parishes. They spoke about the challenges of mission and ministry and how their parishes were rising to meet these challenges.
The Rev Brian Howe spoke for Ballymony, Finvoy and Rasharkin Parish, and the Rev John Rutter and Mr Richard Addis, youth worker, represented Glenavy. The interviews were hosted by the Rev Paul Dundas.
The evening session continued with a key-note address from a Methodist perspective by the Rev Dr Heather Morris. Her talk was entitled ‘The call of God on our lives and witness,’ and was delivered by Dr Morris in her usual engaging and thought provoking manner.
Her address was followed by a question and answer session, with both Dr Morris and Bishop Abernethy responding to the many queries from the floor, before Bishop Abernethy formally closed Connor Synod 2017.