Clergy and lay members from across the Diocese of Connor were in Ballymena on Wednesday October 3 for the annual Diocesan Synod.
This was held in Ballymena Elim Centre and was preceded by a Service of Holy Communion in St Patrick’s Parish Church, which also hosted the evening meal.
In his Presidential Address, Bishop of Connor, the Rt Rev Alan Abernethy, spoke about Brexit and the ‘tragic’ absence of a Northern
Ireland Assembly, the need to pray for a way forward and to find ways of dealing with the past.
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.’ His new book, The Jewel in the Mess, will be published in the New Year.
Bishop Abernethy spoke about the ‘real potential’ for Ordained Local Ministry and described his membership of the World Council of Churches Central Committee as ‘challenging and stimulating.’
He said it was critical that the Church was aware of how it engages with its own local culture, adding that he was encouraged to see the number of parishes trying new and innovative ways to engage with their local communities.
In his wide-ranging address Bishop Abernethy also spoke about his Lent Seminars, parish issues, the growth of the Diocesan Learning Agreement, and the ‘disturbing’ news from Connor’s link diocese of Yei in South Sudan.
Download Bishop Abernethy’s full Presidential Address.
Synod was divided into two sessions. The afternoon session included the President’s Address, reports from Diocesan Council and Associated Notices of Motion.
The Report of Diocesan Council was proposed by Mr Ken Gibson, Lisburn Cathedral, and seconded by the Rev Danielle McCullagh, Lisburn Cathedral.
Tributes were paid to members of Team Connor for the work they are doing in the diocese, in particular Diocesan Development Officer Trevor Douglas, Youth Officer Christina Baillie, Children’s Project Development Officer Jill Hamilton and Church Army Evangelists Karen Webb and Stephen Whitten.
In his report to Synod, Mr Douglas said he had assisted several parishes to develop strategic three-year plans. He said he was impressed by the number who had progressed their outreach work with new relationships established and new ministries formed.
Mr Douglas said he had secured additional funding for both children’s and youth ministry, and seed funding for a leadership training programme for clergy and lay, designed to enable leaders to explore new forms of mission and ministry at parish level.
His report also highlighted work he has done with the Bishop to develop relationships with a range of community leaders and activists. “It is encouraging that even in what appears to be a growing secularism of society, that these leaders welcome a relationship with the Church and are willing to listen to our voice,” Mr Douglas stated in his report.
In her report, Mrs Baillie revealed she will be launching a new project exploring issues around mental health and emotional well-being for young people later this year.
AFFIRM will equip and provide opportunities for young people in difficulty and their communities as a whole,” the report stated.
This initiative was commended in the adoption of the report.
The Rev Andrew Campbell, rector of Skerry, Rathcavan and Newtowncrommelin, paid tribute to Mrs Hamilton, Mrs Webb and Connor Children’s Council for bringing Patrick’s Mysterious Adventure to Broughshane for four days in March. He said the event had engaged more than 550 local people.
Mrs Webb updated Synod on the success of the TLG (Transforming Lives for Good) programme initiated by the Centre of Mission in Shankill Road. She said this project, which supports primary school children who might be at risk of being excluded from school, now has nine new coaches, making a total of 15. During the year, the coaches partnered with a local primary school and it was already apparent what a difference this one hour mentoring a week was making in the lives of the children being coached.
“This could happen in any parish in the diocese,” Mrs Webb said.
She also updated Synod on the Baby Basics project, which supports new mothers in need and their babies by providing essential items. Mrs Webb said 45 packs had been distributed over the summer, and thanked all those parishes who had supported the Baby Basics challenge.
Others who spoke during the proposing and adopting of the various diocesan reports included Dean Sam Wright, who thanked Connor Council for Mission for its support for a Lisburn Cathedral team which travelled to Uganda to meet with Bishop Hilary and the Church of Yei in exile, and the Rev Colin Hall Thompson, Chaplain to the Mission to Seafarers in Belfast.
Mr Hall-Thompson appealed for volunteers to help in the Mission to Seafarers Centre at Belfast Docks in the evenings.
Mrs Valerie Ash, whose six-year term as Diocesan President of Connor Mothers’ Union President finishes at the end of this year, spoke about developments in Mothers’ Union, particularly on the home front, and how the organisation supports the needs of others. (Mrs Ash features in the next issue of the diocesan magazine Connor Connections which will be available in the middle of October).
Mrs Ash said that she would be succeeded as Diocesan President by Mrs Sally Cotter. Bishop Alan paid tribute to Mrs Ash for her faithful service to Mothers’ Union.
All reports and notices of motions were passed. At the end of the first session, Dean Sam Wright presented Bishop Abernethy with a gift for his baby grandson, and extended the thanks of the clergy for the support the Bishop has given them over the year.
“As clergy we appreciate all that you do for us. In the challenges of life you are a listening ear. Your constant encouragement is appreciated by all of us,” Dean Wright said.
Mr Tom Lyttle stepped up to thank the Bishop on behalf of the laity for all his ‘openness and honesty. “Thank you for the way you handle the business of the diocese on our behalf,” Mr Lyttle said.
Thanking both speakers, Bishop Abernethy said: “One of the greatest gifts is the gift of encouragement.”
Following an excellent meal in St Patrick’s Parish Hall, served by a team of hard working ladies and gents, the evening session of Synod got underway with stories of outreach work in four Connor parishes.
The focus of the stories was an Alpha course in Ardoyne; Messy Church and more in St Aidan’s, Sandy Row; Filling Station (contemporary worship) in Ballymoney and the African Child Ministries Shop in Greenisland. A full report on this section of Synod can be read HERE.
Synod members were then invited into the adjoining hall to meet representatives of a number of organisations, namely Messy Church, the North Belfast Centre of Mission, Xplore, Youth Forum, Streetreach, University Chapliancy, CAP (Christians Against Poverty) and the African Child Ministries.
The final stage of the evening session was a keynote address by Bishop Abernethy, in which he reflected on his sabbatical, and how it helped him rediscover ‘the wonder and beauty of Jesus.’ He said that a year ago he had realised that his spirit was tired “Jesus makes sense of all that I am, I just wanted to rediscover that,” the Bishop said.
The Bishop also looked at issues facing the church today, including buildings, finance, and the dependence on clergy. He spoke about how, after the initial ‘confusion, bewilderment and excitement’ of being appointed Bishop of Connor in 2007, he began to see a lot of ‘disconnection.’
That led to the diocesan Vision Strategy with its focus on Engaging culture, Empowering ministry, Effecting change. This vision, he said, needed a team to drive it, and that resulted in the appointment of the Development Team.
This team’s work has led to new networks with youth council, children’s council and a Centre of Mission, building links with local community, local parishes and the parishes throughout the diocese and recognition from civil society that the church can be entrusted to be channels of help, Bishop Abernethy said.
He said the Inter Diocesan Learning Project had helped him and others see the things that were happening in the diocese – equipping new leaders, discipling young people, new ministries emerging from the Centre of Mission, parishes reaching out in new ventures, university chaplaincies growing, Belfast Cathedral addressing its mission in the heart of the city – and all these stories being told to the diocese through the diocesan magazine.
Bishop said he had visited various Church Army projects during his sabbatical and that the diocese in its vision may focus on the Church Army’s DARE strategy – Doing, Advocating, Resourcing, Enabling.
Synod ended on schedule with all present saying the Blessing together.
Our Album has photographs taken through the day and evening.