In his Presidential Address to Connor Diocesan Synod, meeting in Ballymena Elim Centre on October 3, the Bishop of Connor said the absence of a Northern Ireland Assembly was ‘tragic.’
The Rt Rev Alan Abernethy said the year had been difficult for many. “There has been much said about this sad situation and there has been the usual blame game by political parties,” Bishop Abernethy said.
“It is tragic, at such a critical time for this province, not least with the Brexit talks, that we do not have our local Assembly meeting.
“Please pray for a way forward that allows us all to build a better future, as we also find ways of dealing with the past. It is the past that still stops us from moving forward and it is critical we find ways not only of acknowledging the pain of victims, but also of bringing healing and hope.”
Bishop Abernethy said that with the constant arguments over Brexit, it was difficult to know where negotiations would lead. “Sadly, the border issue has become a political football in the discussions and this community deserves better than that as we have sought to build the future in peace. Please pray for those who will help shape our future and for the process that lies ahead.”
The Bishop has recently returned from a four-month sabbatical, which he described as a ‘gift’ which gave him time to ‘recover from the constant demands of ministry and leadership.’
The Bishop’s new book The Jewel in the Mess will be published in the New Year.
Bishop Abernethy said he has spoken at last year’s Diocesan Synod about the introduction of Ordained Local Ministry. The first group of candidates have been selected for this local ministry.
“It was fascinating watching this ministry emerge and it has real potential, particularly at present, in the city of Belfast,” the Bishop said.
He told Synod that he had found it challenging and stimulating to be a member of the World Council of Churches Central Committee. “The issues that we discuss are fascinating and to hear first-hand accounts of Christians from Syria, Palestine, the Indian Ocean, the Orthodox Church in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and many other places is challenging and refreshing,” the Bishop said.
Bishop Abernethy spoke of what he called ‘that compelling mix of gospel and culture,’ and asked: “How much of the gospel in each and every context is influenced and shaped by the culture?” He said it was critical that the Church was aware of how it engages with its own local culture.
The Bishop said the Connor Centre of Mission continues to be a blessing to the local community in the Shankill and throughout the diocese. “This ministry is often unseen and my thanks go to them for their dedication to the service and care they offer,” he told Synod.
He said that throughout the diocese, he was encouraged to see the number of parishes trying new and innovative ways to engage with their local communities.
Bishop Abernethy said his Lent course had again been well attended, despite the cancellation of the Bushmills talk due to snow. In the seminar, he examined the ‘Mission of God Today,’ using the ‘five marks of mission.’
“The mission of God is our primary calling and in each and every generation we must discover how we can fulfil God’s calling,” the Bishop told Synod.
In his wide-ranging address Bishop Abernethy also spoke about parish issues, the growth of the Diocesan Learning Agreement which Connor last year entered into with Dublin and Tuam, and the ‘disturbing’ news from Connor’s link diocese of Yei in South Sudan. “Please do continue to pray for our brothers and sisters in Sudan,” the Bishop said.
Bishop Abernethy expressed thanks to his staff, the Archdeacons, Deans and Rural Deans, and particularly to his family.
Concluding his address, the Bishop said: “One of the joys of my sabbatical was to spend time reflecting on the gospels and the person of Jesus. He is so special, unique and beautifully human, and yet divine, showing us what God looks like in human form to inspire and encourage us as we seek to follow him and reflect him to others.
“The words of that famous children’s hymn are simple and yet profound:
Jesus loves me, this I know,
For the Bible tells me so.”
You can download Bishop Abernethy’s full Presidential Address.