Her Majesty’s Lord-Lieutenant for the County Borough of Belfast, Mrs Fionnuala Jay-O’Boyle CBE, visited Connor’s North Belfast Centre of Mission on Thursday October 26.
Mrs O’Boyle was accompanied by her Deputy Lieutenants in a visit which took place at the invitation of the Bishop of Connor, the Rt Rev Alan Abernethy.
The Centre of Mission, known as Connect Base, occupies two units in the Spectrum Centre on Belfast’s Shankill Road.
The evening was organised to give Mrs Jay O’Boyle and the Lieutenancy an insight into the work being carried out at Connect Base to benefit the local area.
After tea and coffee, and following an introduction by the Lord Lieutenant, Bishop Abernethy welcomed the guests. He said the Centre of Mission was all about connecting churches and the people of a local area, and offered a model for parishes to be part of the community.
Mr Trevor Douglas, Diocesan Development Officer, gave a presentation introducing the work of the Connect Base, showing a film highlighting the challenges people in this part of Belfast faced. He said the Diocese’s response to these challenges had mission at its heart, and was built on reconciliation, outreach and community.
Introducing the team of Karen Webb and Stephen Whitten, Church Army Evangelists; Jill Hamilton, Diocesan Children’s Officer and Christina Baillie, Diocesan Youth Officer, he explained that the Centre of Mission for North and Mid Belfast was run by Connor Diocese in partnership with Church Army. (Mrs Webb and Mrs Baillie were unable to be present on the night).
It aims are to support existing clergy, build relationships and develop new partnerships in the diocese, resource the local church, train and encourage new Christian leaders and then replicate this model in other parts of the diocese.
Mr Douglas said that the Centre of Mission was working with other agencies, namely TLG (Transforming Lives for Good); CAP (Christians Against Poverty) and Baby basics.
Mrs Hamilton spoke about the background to Baby basics, the connections already established with health professionals, and how the project works in practice. She outlined the four week challenge, which parishes around the diocese have signed up to, to provide the items for the Moses Baskets which are given to mums of new babies. The visitors were shown made up baskets, and heard stories of what the support of Baby basics has meant to some families.
Stephen Whitten then spoke about the TLG programme, which is early intervention for upper primary school children at risk of being excluded from school. The project is partnering with Mulvern Primary School, and six trained coaches are now meeting a child for an hour a week for a year.
Mr Whitten said: “Education is a major issue for young people in the area, particularly in working class loyalist areas where the devaluing of education is part of the culture.” He said it was hoped this project would grow and expand.
Mrs Hamilton then outlined the work of the CAP project in the area, which is aiming to tackle the root causes of debt. There is a CAP Job Club already operating in St Michael’s Parish, and a CAP Life Skills course due to get underway in St Matthew’s in January.
The guests heard that Mrs Webb and Mr Whitten are involved in the CAP Befriending scheme. Mr Whitten said that numbers at the Job Club had been slow. “It sometimes feels like you are not getting anywhere but then you hear a great story of transformation,” he said.
Summing up, Mr Douglas said the Centre of Mission would continue to build on its partnerships, to serve the community and do mission. It will explore the possibility of acquiring its own building, possibly through restoring or rebirthing an old church, and will continue to be a safe place and a centre of help for all.
Thanking the team members for their presentation, Bishop Abernethy commented: “Too many people come to this area to fix it. We just want to be here by our presence.”
Following the presentation, the members of the Lieutenancy had the opportunity to ask questions.